APL boxship criticised for accident with fishing trawler

APL Southampton. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

The crew on a container ship involved in a fatal collision with a fishing vessel was said to have acted inadequately in preventing the mishap.

A report published by the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau of Singapore stated that crew on the APL Southampton, a 9,850 teu container ship operated by APL, a unit of French liner group CMA CGM, had failed to maintain effective bridge watchkeeping, planning a safe passage, and assisting the stricken fishing vessel.

On the night of 15 March 2018, the APL Southampton was sailing between the ports of Xiamen and Ningbo in China when it collided with a Chinese fishing vessel, Zhe Ling Yu 52035, amid dense fog.

Of the crew on Zhe Ling Yu 52035, eight were injured, one was killed, and one remains missing. None of the crew on the APL Southampton were injured and the ship sustained minor damage to its bulbous bow.

The investigation identified that at about 23:13 local time, the Taizhou vessel traffic system (VTS) broadcast a security message on very high frequency (VHF) regarding the heavy fishing traffic in the area as the ship proceeded towards a further group of such vessels. One of these was Zhe Ling Yu 52035.

Ten minutes later, an unidentified automated collision warning was directed to APL Southampton by VHF, followed by another warning at 23:25. One of the crew members, an able seaman, asked the third officer if the master should be called, but the third officer declined. At 23:29, the steering was changed to manual and the third officer initially altered course to starboard in an attempt to increase the closest point of approach with a group of fishing vessels on the starboard beam.

At about 23:33, the third officer reportedly saw one of the fishing vessels cross ahead at close range on the radar, coinciding with a sound of “clattering” on the voyage data recorder (VDR). The third officer and able seaman discussed whether they might have hit one of the fishing vessels, and at 23:35, the former called the master, who arrived on the bridge two minutes later. The master took over the controls and instructed the able seaman to steer clear of some nearby fishing vessels, but the ship otherwise continued on passage, with the steering reverted to autopilot at 23:43.

Although no distress alert was received, subsequent messages were received on APL Southampton’s radar indicating a possible collision. Despite conversations between the master and third officer regarding the likelihood of the collision, no apparent attempt was made to try to contact Zhe Ling Yu 52035 or report the situation to shoreside authorities.

Graham Wilson, associate director at Tindall Riley, the manager of Britannia P&I Club, said, “Neither ship properly assessed the risk of collision nor took appropriate actions to avoid the collision.

“The investigation noted anecdotal evidence that the crew of fishing vessels in this area may lack familiarity with the COLREGs [International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea]; watchkeepers on board merchant ships therefore need to recognise the possible hazards of navigating in close proximity to such fishing vessels.”

The investigation also showed that APL Southampton did not take appropriate action amid the fog. Wilson said, “Had the third officer reduced speed when encountering restricted visibility and large concentrations of fishing vessels, this would have provided greater time and opportunity to take appropriate and effective action to avoid a collision.”

He also addressed the failure of APL Southampton’s crew to assist the crew of Zhe Ling Yu 52035. Wilson said, “The other fishing vessels in the area may have been best placed to assist, but the bridge team on APL Southampton failed to establish whether there had been a collision and whether the crew of Zhe Ling Yu were safe, as well as not reporting the situation. This is disappointing and against the moral traditions of the sea.”

Safety at Sea attempted to contact APL for comment but did not receive a response.