A ship grounding can be a very serious accident. It can cause millions of dollars in damage to ships and cargo, but also human injuries or even fatalities. It is important to understand what causes these maritime accidents so they can be prevented in the future. A recent incident report found that a grounding that fortunately did not result in any injuries to crew members was due to human error. The grounding of the Leda Maersk in New Zealand highlights how preventable errors lead to accidents at sea.
The Leda Maersk Grounding
The Danish container ship Leda Maersk ran aground near the Port of Otago in New Zealand in the evening on June 10. It already dark out and a local pilot was on board to bring the ship into harbor. On the bridge were the pilot, master, helmsman, and officer of the watch.
As the pilot had control of the speed and course of the container ship, it began to go significantly off course. It was supposed to stay in the center of the channel but got off course and ultimately ran aground on the left side of the channel. No one was hurt and the ship suffered some damage to the hull.
Investigations Found Pilot Navigated Visually, Not with Navigation Equipment
New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigated the accident to find out the cause of the grounding. A report issued nearly a year after the incident concluded that the crew, including the pilot failed to note or recognize and do anything about the fact that the ship was off course in the port channel because they were navigating visually.
The navigation aid on the ship indicated to the crew that the ship had strayed off course, but the crew and most importantly the pilot did not use this information, instead relying on what they could see out the windows. TAIC reported that the actions of the crew fell short of an acceptable industry standard for navigating into port. They also failed to follow the company’s own policies on navigating.
The pilot did note that the equipment had an 18-meter offset that made it seem as if the ship were 18 meters more off course than it actually was. This is when the pilot chose to navigate visually instead of accounting for or trying to correct the offset. The second mistake the pilot made was to fail to notify the rest of the crew that he was no longer using the navigation equipment. The equipment even triggered an alarm about the deviation, but the crew failed to do anything about it.
The Importance of Electronic Navigation
While for thousands of years sailors relied on visual cues to navigate, this is far from foolproof. Modern technologies now allow captains and crews to monitor navigation, assess storms and conditions, and identify potential causes of accidents and to change routes accordingly.
These electronic navigation technologies make shipping and other maritime industries safer, preventing accidents by identifying potentially dangerous situations that humans simply cannot detect. They prevent injuries and deaths, not to mention loss of cargo and ship damage. When human crew fails to use these tools, accidents result, as was the case with the Leda Maersk.
In the case of the Leda Maersk, TAIC came to four conclusions and lessons learned that other crews could use to prevent a similar accident: the bridge crew and pilot must be in communication about navigation; the bridge team should manage resources correctly; the warning system for navigation should be heeded; and pilots must be fully trained.
If you have ever been a victim of a grounding or another shipping accident and got injured, you have rights. Laws protect you and allow you to recover damages in certain situations. Contact a maritime lawyer for advice and legal guidance.