Collisions of Ships

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Sea routes are getting busier today. The number of ships are continuously growing, but with an increase in traffic and speed, the risk of accidents has also increased drastically. Day by day the Shipping disasters are increasing. There are some causes of shipping disasters which reported every year. Even with all the advance technology in shipping industry, collisions of ships are still happence.

What is ship collision ?

Ship collision is a kind of marine accident that results from a ship crashing into a still or floating object. Ship collision cases can be a ship to ship, ship to floating object, ship to submarine or ship to still structure collisions. Ship collision is considered to be the worst of marine accidents as it leads to extreme adverse effects on human and marine life. The sea route traffic has increased by leaps and bounds and there has also been a sharp increase in the speed levels. If the ship has high tonnage and is heavily loaded, the effects of collision can be more drastic in nature. There are several types of ship collisions that commonly occur.

Side Collision

This is when one vessel is struck on its side by another vessel. It is essentially the same principal as a T-bone type car accident.

Bow on Collision

This occurs when two vessels strike each from their front ends, or head on.

Stern Collision

This type of collision is one vessel running into the rear of another.


This collision involves one vessel striking a stationary object, such as a bridge, seawall, etc.

There are some causes for shipping disasters such as, Human Error, Equipment Failure, Infrastructure problem, fires.

1. Human Error :- Human Error is the most common cause of ship collision. Carelessness or simply errors on the part of crew members can quickly lead to collisions at sea. Also, confusion stemming from differences in maritime traffic schemes across different regions, similarly to driving on the wrong side of the road while visiting another country may cause the ship collision.

2. Weather :- After Human Error, a bad weather may cause for ship collision. The weather have biggest impact on maritime accidents. Fog obstructing vision, high winds exerting force on vessels, ice flows colliding with vessels, all fall under this category. In many cases, weather is only a contributing factor in a collision. High winds on the ocean can cause several problems for commercial shipping.

3. Infrastructure Problems :- If something on land is out of position, such as a draw bridge dropping prematurely, it can cause collisions. This is the rarest cause of maritime accidents, but it does occur.

4. Equipment Failure :- When an engine fails, manoeuvring capabilities are lost, or other equipment essential to the operation of the ship malfunctions.

How to stop collision of ship

– Follow the rules of navigation.

– Pay attention to the navigation aids.

– keep a sharp watch and appoint one person to be the “lookout”.

– Maintain a safe speed, especially in congested traffic and at night.

– Look in all directions before making any turn.

– Use caution if you traveling directly into the sun’s glare on the water.

– Never operate when fatigued, stressed or consuming alcohol.

– Be aware that floating debris is more common after heavy rainfall.

Action should be taken in case of Collision

– Stop engines and obtain an assessment of the situation. It may be prudent to maintain a few revolutions in the engines to avoid the other vessel form floating and consequent sinking when both vessels are separating.

– Sound emergency alarm.

– Switch on deck lights and NUC lights.

– Inform master and engine room.

– Broadcast message to all ships in the vicinity.

– Carry out head count and damage assessment.

– Muster damage control parties and detail duties.

– Order bilge pumps and ballast pumps to start pumping out effected area.

– shut all watertight doors and fire doors.

– Communication officer – standby to obtain weather report.

What is chief officer’s duties in collision?

– Internal sounding of all tanks – check watertight integrity.

– Machinery space wet or dry.

– Head count – check for casualties.

– Investigate pollution possibilities.

– Will consider ballasting to bring damaged portion above waterline.

Case Study :-

1. Collision Case Study – Cargo Ships Renate Schulte – Marti Princess.

On board the MARTI PRINCESS (MP)

The MP had just exited the Sea of Marmara in Turkey and was proceeding on a course of 208 at 11 knots. At about 2150 the Master made his way to chart room to check some documents. The chart room curtains were drawn closed. The Master neither heard any exchange of messages on the VHF nor did the OOW inform him of any particular navigational problems. The Master then checked the chart and proceeded to the bridge. Immediately the Master observed a ship on his starboard bow. The ship seemed very close. He also observed two other ships on MP’sport bow, at about 5 and 10 respectively. The Master asked the OOW to indicate the speed and distance of the first ship.

The OOW reported a distance of about five nautical miles. Somewhat surprised, the Master requested the OOW to double check the calculations as the ship seemed to be much closer than five nautical miles. The OOW checked again and this time he reported that the distance was eight cables. The Master ordered the OOW to change over to hand steering and alter course to starboard, the intention being to pass astern of the ship on her starboard bow. This ship was later identified as ILGAZ. Given the close proximity of the two ships, the Master followed the situation and manoeuvred visually rather than by radar.

Once ILGAZ was on the port side of MP, the OOW asked the Master whether he could manoeuvre the ship back to the original course. Focusing entirely on ILGAZ, and with his mind at rest that ILGAZ was now clear, the Master gave his consent to the OOW. The OOW had already started the manoeuvre when the Master noticed another ship very close, almost dead ahead, with both side lights clearly visible. At about 2209, when this ship was less than half a nautical mile away, the Master called by VHF to the ‘ship on my starboard side’ and requested that both ships pass port to port and he began altering course to starboard. The Master repeated his request, this time addressing the ‘ship dead ahead’.

  • On board the RENATE SCHULTE (RS)

At 2140, while north bound on the same channel as the MP (on a course of 025 and speed of 16.5 knots) the OOW on the RS had consulted his radar and observed ILGAZ when she was on his port bow and at a distance that was calculated to be 11 nautical miles. ILGAZ was crossing the bow of the RS from port to starboard, with a closest point of approach (CPA) of about 0.5 nautical miles.

When MP was first detected on the radar by RS, shortly before 2200, she was on the starboard side of RS at a distance of about five nautical miles. MP was crossing RS’s bow from starboard to port. Consequently, the OOW focused his attention on ILGAZ. As soon as ILGAZ cleared the bow of RS, the OOW altered course to starboard by about 27 but only so far as to be sure of clearing the stern of ILGAZ.

Soon after 2200 the lookout reported a ship, one point on the starboard bow, showing her green sidelight. The ship was initially not visible to the lookout because of the ship’s deck cranes. Following the lookout’s remark, the OOW switched the radar to the six-mile range setting. At this time (approximately 2203) MP was about 2.2 nautical miles ahead and still slightly on RS’s starboard bow. The OOW on RS identified MP from the AIS (which was interfaced with the radar). He called MP by her name on the VHF four times between 2204 and 2207. There was no reply. Some time later, the lookout reported that he could see both sidelights. It was evident that MP was dead ahead on a reciprocal course.

The OOW was quite surprised with the manoeuvre made by the MP and concluded that the ship must have altered course to her starboard to give way to ILGAZ, although shortly afterwards she came back to her initial course with a port alteration. The OOW concluded that a further alteration to starboard was only possible to a limited extent since as ILGAZ was now on her starboard side, almost abeam and was herself now altering course to starboard. RS continued swinging to starboard until 2209 when the Master, having been called to the bridge, attempted to come to port in order to avoid hitting MP in the accommodation block.


The investigation was unable to determine why the OOW (and the lookout) on MP had not been monitoring the situation until it was brought to their attention by the Master of the ship when he visited the wheel house at about 2150.

It was acknowledged that in this particular situation MP (as an overtaking ship) was under the obligation to keep out of the way of ILGAZ as prescribed in Rule 13 of the COLREGs. However, the manoeuvre that was undertaken was neither substantial nor conducted in ample time as required by Rules 8(b) and (c), eventually resulting in another close quarters situation in contravention with Rule 8(c). A substantial alteration to starboard by MP alone (as the give-way ship) to a new heading of 296 would have meant that MP crossed the course of RS at 90 and still passing behind the stern of ILGAZ.

In fact, had the OOW on board the MP maintained his course, ILGAZ would have crossed the bow of MP at a distance of three cables and would have passed RS on her starboard side nine cables away. Adequate plotting by both ships could have prevented the close quarters situation arising. It was concluded that manoeuvring by RS could not have avoided the collision but it was observed that at no stage did RS reduce speed or come astern on her engines.

Situational awareness:


The third officer on board MP was under the impression that ILGAZ was five nautical miles away when in fact the two ships were only eight cables apart. This indicates the OOW had either misinterpreted the data from the radar or was (psychologically) disconnected from the surrounding situation or that it was a combination of both.

While the Master managed to intervene and succeeded in his manoeuvre to avoid a potential collision with ILGAZ, none of the crew members focused on the wider context in order to determine the consequences of their manoeuvres vis-a-vis the northbound RS. The fact that the OOW on MP asked for the Master’s authorisation to steer back to the original course, once the stern of ILGAZ was cleared, suggested that either he was unaware of RS or that he was aware of RS but was relying on the Master to assess the wider situation. It is clear that due to the evolving situation between ILGAZ and MP, the Master was unaware of RS. Neither officer had accurate situational awareness.


The bridge team should monitor the voyage and remain alert to everything happening around them – situational awareness. As illustrated by the case study, situational awareness is dynamic, hard to maintain and easy to lose. The following actions can help a team retain or regain situational awareness :

  • Communicate clearly and effectively any observations on the ship’s progress and contribute to any decision made by the team.

  • Assertive error spotting by the team should be encouraged to combat complacency or distraction.

  • Look out of the window as often as possible.

2. Cosco Hong Kong / Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135: OOW Did’t Apply Colregs.

At 0218 on 6 March 2011, the UK registered container ship Cosco Hong Kong collided with the China registered fish transportation vessel Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135. The accident occurred in international waters off the coast of Zhejiang Province, China. Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135 sank almost immediately, with the loss of 11 lives. Cosco Hong Kong was not damaged.
On impact, Cosco Hong Kong’s olegraph to stop. He did not see Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135 immediately before or after the collision and he was unaware of what the container ship had struck. Cosco Hong Kong remained drifting in the vicinity for over one hour while the master tried to establish what had happened. In the absence of any evidence that a collision had occurred, Cosco Hong Kong then resumed passage to Yangshan, China.

The Taizhou Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre was notified that Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135 was missing at 2021, 18 hours after the collision. An air and sea search failed to find any trace of the vessel or her crew. The wreck of Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135 was eventually located on 17 March 2011 close to the position of the collision.

Factors that led to the collision included :-

The performance of Cosco Hong Kong’s OOW fell well short of expected standards. He did not correctly apply the collision regulations or follow on board instructions.
• Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135 and Cosco Hong Kong turned towards each other at about the same time when only about 1.5 nm apart and with a closing speed of over 20kts.
• Cosco Hong Kong’s OOW was the sole lookout. In darkness, in adverse weather conditions, and among large concentrations of fishing vessels, he did not see that Zhe Ling Yu Yun 135 was approaching.
• Even though many fishing vessels were concentrated in the area, Cosco Hong Kong’s master or OOW did not consider amending the voyage plan, reducing speed, or enhancing the bridge manning.

Recommendations have been made to the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and COSCO Maritime UK Ltd (Cosmar) intended to improve bridge watch keeping standards on all vessels managed by Cosmar and other COSCO subsidiaries. A recommendation has also been made to the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China aimed at increasing the survive ability of Chinese fishermen following marine casualties.


COSCO Hongkong was on passage from Xiamen to Nansha, China at a speed of 21 knots when she encountered a large number of fishing vessels in the Dadanwei Shuidao channel. This dramatically increased the workload of the OOW, who was accompanied on the bridge by a lookout. To keep clear of the fishing vessels, the OOW manoeuvred the vessel to the south of her intended track using the auto-pilot. In doing so, he forgot about the proximity of the Lixin Pai reef, over which the charted water depth was only 3.1m and which had been highlighted as a danger on the paper chart in use. The vessel passed over the reef and grounded momentarily. She was then anchored to allow an assessment of the damage to be completed. Although the vessel suffered extensive damage to her hull plating, which resulted in the free-flooding of a number of ballast tanks, she was able to continue to Nansha.

Action taken

The Deputy Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has written to the vessel’s manager strongly advising it to take measures to ensure that all passage plans are critically reviewed by masters to identify the areas in which routine bridge manning potentially requires enhancement, and where the speed of transit requires careful consideration. The vessels manager has also been advised to stress to its bridge watch keeping officers the importance of calling a master whenever in doubt or when having difficulty in keeping a vessel safe.

Ships Collision Statistic


Number of Accidents



141 Accidents recorded

Total 8 vessels loss, at least 21 sailors died or missing


120 Accidents recorded

4 vessels lost, least 8 sailors died, 1 crew killed and 14 kidnapped.


122 Accidents recorded

10 vessels lost, at least 52 sailors died and went missing, 2 sailors kidnapped.


114 Accidents recorded

7 vessels sank, at least 32 casualties, at least 14 crew kidnapped.


124 Accidents recorded

10 vessels lost, at least 17 casualties, at least 7 crew kidnapped.


110 Accidents recorded

5 vessels lost, at least 31 casualties.

References :-

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