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Investigation Published into Near Miss by Two Passenger Ferries At Rosslare

29th December 2022
Rosslare ferry port
A file photograph of Rosslare ferry port Credit: Irish Rail

An investigation into a close-quarter incident involving two passenger ferries in Rosslare Harbour, Co Wexford, is highly critical of port control and poor communication on the bridge of one of the ships.

It also highlights failure by the Government to ensure there is training for port controllers, underpinned by legislation.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board report notes that “communication problems” led to an incoming ship’s bridge team failing to follow instructions from port, knowing that another vessel was outbound.

The incident occurred after an inbound vessel, Connemara, arrived from Bilbao in Spain early on March 16th, 2022.

It was asked by Rosslare Port Control to wait outside the harbour in the vicinity of West Holdens buoy.

An outbound vessel Stena Europe was scheduled to sail for Fishguard in Wales at 07.30 hrs.

The report says that Connemara did not follow the instructions from Rosslare Harbour Control and instead of holding position proceeded towards the breakwater.

Stena Europe was given permission to sail by Rosslare Port Control and departed its berth unaware that Connemara was approaching the breakwater.

The two vessels met each other just off the breakwater. Both vessels had to take action to avoid collision resulting in a close quarter situation where they were only 100 metres clear, the MCIB report says.

In his statement to the MCIB, the master of the inbound vessel Connemara said he was unclear of the intentions of outbound vessel.

This uncertainty is also evident from the VHF conversation at 07.28 hrs where the inbound vessel asks the outbound vessel if it is going to alter to starboard or cross ahead, the report says.

It says the inbound vessel could have avoided the situation entirely by utilising the deep water to the north of West Holdens buoy to manoeuvre while waiting for the outbound vessel to clear the channel, therefore, avoiding any possibility of a close quarter situation developing.

This is also something that could have been communicated to the inbound vessel by Rosslare Port Control, had the duty port controller noticed that the inbound vessel was not following his advice, it says.

The report says it is “evident from the VDR recording and conflicting statements received from the bridge team of Connemara that communication among the bridge team was extremely poor, leading to a situation where there was uncertainty as to who was in control of the situation”.

The report also notes that the outbound vessel was in a position to have avoided this close quarter situation.

“It is evident from its VDR recording that it was concerned about its sailing time and not being held up by the early arrival of Connemara, the report says.

The report says that Rosslare Port Control should have been able to manage this situation and to ensure that arriving and departing vessel do not have to worry about close quarter situations off the entrance to the harbour.

Arriving and departing vessels should not end up in a situation where they have to contact each other on VHF to arrange passing, it says.

It notes that the duty port controller was also engaged in other duties in addition to vessel traffic system (VTS) duties, and therefore he could not have been completely focused on the vessels manoeuvring in and off the port.

It says Rosslare’s port controller has no maritime qualifications or training and therefore cannot be expected to fully appreciate the manoeuvrability of the vessels operating in and out of the port.

A lack of training and maritime experience meant that the port controller could not have anticipated the seriousness or potential consequences of allowing a situation such as this one to develop,it says.

For a port that handles over 30 sailings per week, the qualifications and training required to be a port controller at Rosslare are “very low”, it says.

There are no maritime or VTS qualifications required and held by the port controllers, nor is there any legislation requiring such, the report says.

The report includes a number of recommendations for Stena Marine Management, for Stena Line UK, for Rosslare Harbour, and for the Minister for Transport.

The MCIB report recommends that the Minister for Transport and the Irish Maritime Administration should consider legislation to ensure that personnel working in safety-critical roles such as VTS or harbour control have suitable training and qualifications for the position.

In comments provide to the MCIB, Stena Line said it is reviewing its bridge procedures across its Irish Sea fleet, and said it “firmly refuted” the MCIB claim that adhering to scheduling took precedence over safety.

The master of Stena Europe also said that “ at no time prior to sailing did my scheduled sailing time enter my decision-making process”.

“ I have never put sailing on schedule above the safety of the vessel. As stated previously, I was unaware the MV Connemara had passed the West Holden buoy when I let go,”he stated in correspondence to the MCIB.

The harbourmaster at Rosslare Europort pointed out that “at present there is no college in Ireland that will provide V 1031 training”, and “it would be more appropriate to recommend that Rosslare Port should immediately introduce a bespoke course especially for traffic movements in Rosslare”.

Published in MCIB, Ferry, Ports & Shipping
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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