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Airline Pilots on Yacht Which Collided with Tanker off Greystones

15th September 2020
Damage to the bow of ‘Medi Mode’ sustained in the collision Damage to the bow of ‘Medi Mode’ sustained in the collision Photo: courtesy MCIB

Two airline pilots on board a yacht which collided with a tanker off Greystones in the Irish Sea last year have disputed criticism of their experience in a report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB).

The MCIB inquiry into the collision between the 11.7m (38 ft) yacht Medi Mode and the 88m chemical tanker Varkan Ege on the night of August 23rd, 2019 highlights issues with some of the actions taken by both vessels.

The yacht was extensively damaged but was able to make its way to port, and there were no injuries and no pollution caused in the incident.

Damage to hull, starboard side Photo: courtesy MCIBDamage to hull, starboard side Photo: courtesy MCIB

However, the MCIB - which does not apportion blame or fault in its reports - calls on the Minister for Transport to alert recreational sailors and motorboat users to the need for “appropriate training” and compliance with international regulations on prevention of collisions at sea.

The event occurred in three miles east of Greystones at night, but with good visibility and good weather.

The Moody class yacht was en route to its home port of Howth, Co Dublin, and the chemical tanker registered in Turkey was on passage from Dublin to Falmouth, England.

Tanker ‘Varkan Ege'Tanker ‘Varkan Ege' Photo: courtesy MCIB

A “close quarters situation” and subsequent collision occurred at 02.22 hours.

The tanker stayed with the yacht to ensure it did not need assistance. It made its way to Greystones harbour.

The MCIB report says that the tanker reported seeing a red or port side light some 1.5 nautical miles away, and six minutes before the collision.

A demonstration of the incident contained in the MCIB reportA demonstration of the incident contained in the MCIB report

It says the ship altered course to starboard four minutes before the collision. It also reduced speed and used “sound signal” to request the yacht to indicate its intentions.

The yacht had believed no risk of collision existed as the navigational warning lights on both vessels were “green to green” or starboard to starboard.

The yacht was unaware its own light was showing “red”, due to yawing of its mast from a following wind.

The yacht kept its course and speed in the belief that the tanker would pass clear on its starboard side, the report states.

While the report says the tanker “complied with efforts to avoid a collision when it became apparent that collision was possible”, it is critical of the fact that the tanker tried – unsuccessfully - to communicate via VHF radio with the sailing vessel when it was so close.

“This wasted valuable time when an immediate alteration of course to starboard may have been sufficient to avoid collision,” the report states.

It says that the two crew members of the yacht Medi Mode- who are not named in the report - had “many years’ experience of sailing” but they “had no formal marine navigation training”.

“They had no recognised course on the Collision Regulations (COLREGS),”the report says, noting “this was a contributory factor particularly in relation to International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972“.

In a response to the report, a representative of the yacht acknowledges that both crew did not have formal qualification in marine navigation.

It states that as “professionally qualified airline pilots of considerable experience, we are both well-grounded in the aviation COLREGS” or collision regulations”.

The letter says that these aviation collision regulations are “very similar to those pertaining to the marine, with an added third dimension”.

Under collision regulations, a power-driven vessel “shall keep out of the way of a sailing vessel”, but the report says that the yacht was not a sailing vessel in this situation as “both engine and sails were being used for propulsion”.

The report notes that the tanker claims it observed the yacht altering its course to port just before the collision, but the yacht says it kept its course. It says this cannot be determined definitively, as the yacht did not have the technology to record this.

However, the two vessels were on a collision course before it happened, the MCIB says, with the prow of the yacht striking the port bow of the tanker.

The report says the tanker’s speed was 7.5 knots and the yacht had a speed of 7.9 knots.

The report says that “both vessels should have observed each other and avoided a close-quarters situation developing”, where vessels are dangerously close.

It says the yacht should have seen the tanker’s lights at a range of six miles, and the tanker should have observed the yacht lights at a range of one mile.

It says the report by the master of the Varkan Ege tanker does not indicate there was a lookout on the bridge at the time of the collision but does state that the “lookout kept an eye of the sailing vessel”.

It also notes a “conflict” in the information provided by the master and the watchkeeper on the tanker.

It notes that neither vessel took compass bearings of each other to determine if there was a risk of collision.

The report says that “tiredness and fatigue cannot be completely ruled out as a contributing factor in the collision”.

The report recommends a marine notice highlighting the requirements in chapter two of the code of practise on the safe operation of recreational craft be issued by the Minister for Transport.

It says that “in particular, attention should be drawn to” the section on the need to undertake “appropriate” training in sailing and motorboat activities, and on compliance with the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (1972).

Published in MCIB
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

Email The Author

Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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