The temporary master of the Red Funnel ferry which sunk a yacht and ran aground off East Cowes became ‘cognitively overloaded due to high stress’, an accident report has concluded.
The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch has spent almost 18 months investigating the major incident, which saw the Red Falcon ro-ro ferry almost crash into the Cowes Yacht Haven marina wall and narrowly avoided hitting a family sleeping on a yacht.
At just gone 08:00 on Sunday 21st October 2018, the Red Funnel ferry was navigating in severely reduced visibility in Cowes Harbour. Subsequently, the master lost orientation when the vessel swung out of control, departed the navigable channel and was spun around through 220 degrees. In his confusion, the master drove the ferry in the wrong direction resulting in a collision with the moored yacht ‘Greylag’ which was sunk on its mooring as a result.
The 4,128 ton ferry – with 48 people on board – then ran aground just 130 metres off of East Cowes esplanade – close enough to the shore that locals could connect to the onboard wifi. This all happened in between 50-200m of visibility.
In their report, the MAIB explains that the Red Falcon’s crew were struggling to maintain the required course resulting in the master taking over the controls from the Chief Officer. The vessel was swinging from starboard to port and by 08:10 had swung 220 degrees from its original heading. 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 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.
Later in the day, 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. It has been confirmed that the crew were breathalysed with negative results.
Crew involved in 3 collisions
It has been confirmed that the helmsman and lookouts on board Red Falcon at the time of this crash were also onboard the ferry when it crashed into the motor cruiser Phoenix on 29th September 2018. Furthermore, the Cheif Officer (C/O), helmsman and lookouts on board Red Falcon during the Greylag collision were also onboard Red Eagle at the time of another accident in the fog on 27th September 2018.
The C/O returned to work just 2 weeks before the Greylag collision and had little experience of working with the master, who was acting in a temporary role.
The MAIB has 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.
Furthermore, the bridge team became disengaged from the operation due to a lack of clear communications and emergency scenario training.
It has also been identified that the hazard to people sleeping on yachts in Cowes Harbour had not been sufficiently mitigated within risk assessments.
The Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents has said in a statement:
“Our investigation highlighted how quickly restricted visibility can negatively affect individuals’ awareness and orientation, which increases their stress and impacts on decision making. Crews on vessels of any size can be affected, but the consequences can be mitigated by prior preparation and training, effective teamwork, and a full understanding of the capabilities and limitations of the available instrumentation.
“As a result of our investigation, Red Funnel has introduced measures to address many of the shortcomings identified in the report, but two recommendations have been made to the company aimed at further improving their operational practices.
“It was very fortunate that nobody was on board yacht Greylag when it was struck and overrun by Red Falcon. In this respect, the family on a yacht on a nearby swinging mooring had a lucky escape. When Red Falcon swung around it narrowly missed Cowes Yacht Haven marina wall, and had yachts been rafted there the consequences of this accident could also have been much more severe. Our investigation has highlighted that commercial vessels can pose a danger to people sleeping on yachts in some areas of Cowes Harbour, and recommendations have been made to Cowes Harbour Commissioners and Cowes Yacht Haven to review their risk assessments”.
Red Funnel has been 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 Cowes Harbour Commission and the Cowes Yacht Haven have been recommended to review their risk assessments for a collision between a commercial vessel and raft of yachts moored at their marinas detailing mitigating measures that are within their control to implement.