Fog-bound fisherman fouls fairway

Narrative

Early on a cold winter Saturday on Sydney Harbour, a moderately thick fog had blanketed most of the waters east of the Harbour Bridge. A passenger ship approximately 200 metres long was inbound into Sydney Harbour and was passing to the north of Fort Denison. The ship had a pilot onboard and was navigating at 8 knots and sounding the fog horn every 2 minutes as is required by the collision regulations.

When passing Kirribilli Point, the pilot and bridge crew observed a 15 metre charter fishing boat passing across the ship’s bow from the port side less than 50 metres ahead. It was unclear what the other vessel was going to do, so the ship immediately sounded 5 short blasts on the whistle and prepared to take evasive action.

Fortunately, the fishing vessel passed clear, although close enough to have created great angst amongst the ship’s bridge officers and pilot. 

The fishing vessel soon disappeared into the fog, without any communication to the ship and in fact without any indication that the master of the fishing vessel had observed the inbound ship. The ship’s crew had recorded the name of the fishing vessel before it disappeared, and it was later found that this vessel was outbound from Sydney Harbour to fishing grounds offshore, and was carrying 10 paying passengers.

The subsequent investigation found that the fishing vessel was fitted with both a VHF marine radio and with radar, but neither was switched on at the time.

Lessons learned

  1. The master of the fishing boat was not navigating on the starboard side of the channel, instead taking the most direct route out of the harbour. The Collision Regulations provide excellent guidance to mariners and if one vessel ignores them, it usually affects other vessels as well.
  2. The master of the fishing boat failed to use the equipment available to him. Had he been monitoring the radar and listening to the radio, he would have known about the presence of the ship and could have kept away. A prudent mariner should use all means possible to find out what is happening on the harbor, especially in fog.
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