Red Funnel master became “cognitively overloaded”, MAIB finds

The temporary master of ferry Red Falcon (IMO 9064047) which sunk the yacht Greylag and ran aground off East Cowes on October 21st 2010 became ‘cognitively overloaded due to high stress, a Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) accident report has concluded.

At 08:11 on Sunday October 21st 2018 passenger/cargo RoRo Red Falcon collided with and sank the yacht Greylag, which was at her mooring in Cowes Harbour. Visibility within the harbour at the time was severely reduced by fog.

Red Falcon subsequently passed through the yacht moorings and ran aground in soft mud. Red Falcon was refloated later that morning, having suffered no damage. Neither were there any injuries or pollution. However, the Greylag was a constructive total loss.

After entering Cowes Harbour, visibility had reduced and the Red Funnel helmsman experienced difficulty steering due to the lack of visual references and his lack of practice steering by digital compass alone into Cowes Harbour.

The master took over control and operated the steering and propulsion himself. Critically, the role of keeping an oversight of operations was then lost. The poor visibility required the master to rely totally upon his instrumentation. His lack of practice using instruments alone to manoeuvre the ferry resulted in over-correction of steering, which led to the vessel swinging to port out of the channel, ultimately turning through 220º.

It was at this point the decision was made to abort the berthing and head back out of Cowes Harbour and the power was increased – but in the wrong direction. Just a minute later the car ferry crashed into Greylag at a speed of 6.5 knots, causing it to go under the water and immediately sink. The engines were pulled back but the ferry continued towards East Cowes Esplanade, running aground in soft mud around 130m from the shore.

Once aground, the master ordered the anchor to be dropped and alerted the HM Coastguard. At about the same time the Coastguard received a distress call from the skipper of a nearby yacht and reports of cries for help coming from the fog. In response, lifeboats, Coastguard Rescue Teams and the Cowes Harbour Commission motor launch to search for persons in the water. It was eventually concluded that no one was in the water, but by this time a major incident had been declared.

The subsequent collision and grounding occurred because the master lost his orientation in the fog and drove the ferry in the wrong direction. He became disorientated because he was suffering from cognitive overload due to high stress, lack of visibility, bridge equipment ergonomics, and the breakdown of support from the bridge team, the MAIB found.

The ferry, which had 48 people on board, ran aground just 130 metres off the East Cowes esplanade. The vessel was close enough to the shore that locals could connect to the onboard wifi. Visibility varied at between 50 metres and 200 metres.

Later in the day, the ‘Red Falcon’ was manoeuvred to the East Cowes ferry terminal with the aid of a local tug, where all the passengers and vehicles were discharged. The crew were breathalyzed, with negative results.

The MAIB concluded that there were a number of safety issues on the day in question. The master became fixated upon the information displayed on his electronic chart and operating engine controls, ignored information displayed on other electronic equipment and became cognitively overloaded due to high stress.

The MAIB also identified the hazard to people sleeping on yachts in Cowes Harbour had not been sufficiently mitigated within risk assessments.

Red Funnel was recommended to conduct regular assessment of ship-handling capabilities, including pilotage by instruments alone, and to review the shipboard method of determining orientation displayed on the ship’s electronic charting system.

The MAIB recommended that Cowes Harbour Commission and the Cowes Yacht Haven review their risk assessments for a collision between a commercial vessel and raft of yachts moored at their marinas, and that they should detail the mitigating measures that were within their control to implement.

1994-built, UK-flagged, 4,128 gt Red Falcon is owned and managed by Red Funnel Group of Southampton, UK. It is entered with Shipowners’ Club.