VHF portable radio as a tool for preventing collision at sea

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1 13 th Congress of Intl. Maritime Assoc. of Mediterranean IMAM 2009, İstanbul, Turkey, Oct VHF portable radio as a tool for preventing collision at sea HENRYK ŚNIEGOCKI Maritime University,, Poland ABSTRACT: COLREG, international regulations for preventing collisions at sea obliges vessels to prevent collisions. This convention was introduced in 1972 and enforced in 1977 after being ratified by particular countries. The contents of the Convention is based on hundreds- year experience and resulting from conclusions drawn, lessons learned from thousands of sea accidents. At present this Convention gives us general rules to be followed in order to avoid collisions at sea and the good sea practice complements these rules. This article, following a number of discussions and opinions on if and how VHF radiotelephone can be used for preventing collisions at sea, presents various opinions in this matter. This work focuses on an analysis of a situation when the use of VHF is a threat for the safety at sea and when it is necessary to make this dangerous situation clear. 1. INTRODUCTION At present vessels are fitted with modern aids which help the navigator to navigate safely and are especially helpful while making decisions to avoid collisions. Radar, ARPA, AIS, electronic charts can be found in this group, as well as, VHF radiotelephone which is used to provide safety but is mainly used to maintain communication with other vessels in dangerous situations. These instruments are very often installed in integrated systems, cooperating with one another, providing the user access to a lot of indispensable information. It was a real revolution in ship to ship and also in ship to shore communication when first VHF radiotelephones were installed on vessels. The greatest drawback of this device, so useful in ship s equipment, has been the lack of detailed legal regulations regarding its usage. There are legal procedures to be followed in case of keeping contact while listening, calling for assistance or during search and rescue but there are no procedures or legal regulations for the use of VHF in collisions situations. Colreg Convention giving rules to be complied with by vessels in different situations does not specify the role of VHF as a tool helpful to solve a collision situation. More precisely, it does not define in what situations and how to use radiotelephone to prevent collisions. This situation results in the abuse of radiotelephone and the anticollision solutions being effect of communication between vessels are very often not compliant with collision regulations. The attitude to use VHF changed with the passing time and it was mainly connected with the development of technology and a good sea practice. Before DSC was introduced on vessels, the receivers of messages had not been able to identify the sender in VHF range unambiguously. It was because of jammed air. Channel 16 used for calling and for communication in distress was engaged by different conversations between vessels and also by cultural offences such as Philipino banana or Philipino monkey. Vessels willing to start communication in distress had problem because they were unheard. Introduction of DSC and additional detailed procedures for the use of VHF in distress and in emergency situations on board the vessel caused that this radio channel was cleaned. However, there are no such regulations regarding the use of radiotelephone for the decision making in case of anti-collision situations. This article focuses on the possibility of use of radiotelephone to be helpful to solve collision problems and not to cause dangerous situations.

2 2. THE PRINCIPLES OF THE USE OF VHF FOR COLLISION PREVENTION Not so long ago, there were two points of view, shared by the masters, regarding the use of VHF in collision situations. The first group advised the use of radiotelephone in each situation whenever the officer on watch had any doubts regarding the positions of vessels in the vicinity. The other attitude imposed unconditional compliance with Colreg and VHF could be used in a situation when a give-way vessel did not follow the rule and the vessel having the right of way was calling to make sure if the called vessel was going to keep out of the way or not. Many years investigation showed that the use of VHF had been the cause of great number of collisions. This was most frequently observed when vessels decided, by the radio, on maneuvers not compliant with Colreg. Language problems, lack of communication were very frequent causes of accidents. A lot of collisions were also noted during restricted visibility, most often they resulted from improper identification of vessels. This problem was frequently observed before the use of AIS was mandatory, and the person starting communication via VHF not precisely or against good sea practice, gave identification parameters, e.g. the position of the called vessel was referred to the position of the calling vessel ( vessel abeam, 2 miles north ). Position defined in this way is not unambiguously identified because in a given sea area a few vessels can fit such a position within the range of VHF. The introduction of AIS caused that the identification of a vessel is unambiguous, as the vessel calling can read the name, call sign, position, course, speed of the vessel they want to call with the help of AIS. In this way the possibility to make identification mistake has been reduced. Another tool of watch officers improving the communication between vessels was the introduction, by IMO, Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP) as obligatory for VHF communication. SMCP improved understanding of the messages and decreased the amount of misinterpreted information. It is especially important when people from different countries communicate and when there are a lot of disturbances of the radio signal. Although there are a lot of advantages resulting from the introduction of AIS and SMCP, VHF communication should not be abused in collision situations. The most important is to follow Colreg rules unconditionally. 3. THE USE OF VHF IN COLREG RULES As it was mentioned above international regulation for preventing collision at sea does not specify how to use VHF for preventing collisions at sea. Although it is not stated directly, a few rules are related to VHF as the ships equipment to be used. Rule 5 Look- out obliges the watch officer to carry out proper observation both by sight and hearing and it cannot be restricted to receiving acoustic signals from other vessels but must be carried out by all possible means. As VHF radiotelephone is the basic device to keep radio listening, it must be all the time switched on and tuned to an appropriate channel. Thanks to it the watch officer can receive information from other vessels soon enough, as well as, in case of any doubts they can call that vessel and make sure if there is any risk of collision or to learn the intention of other vessel. Another rule which refers to VHF is the rule Risk of collision which, as the previous one, says that all possible means should be used to determine if risk of collision exists. If f.e.g. by means of radar the officer on watch finds possibility of risk of collision but he has doubts as to the proper operation of that instrument, he can contact by VHF the vessel which is potential threat and make sure about its movement parameters and to find out what its intention is. It should also be pointed out that the watch officer can by means of VHF make use of assistance rendered by coastal VTS to define dangerous situation. Rule 7 underlines the fact that the situation cannot be determined basing on scanty information, therefore VHF can be this instrument which helps to verify if the risk of collision exists or not. Rule 17 makes watch officer use VHF, although it is not stated directly. When analyzing this rule it should be noticed that the first part of it obliges the vessel required to keep out of the way, to keep its course and speed. However, the second part of it says that if a vessel which is to keep out of the way is not doing it, then the vessel which has the right of way should make sure if the other vessel started acting accordingly or not. There are a few ways which unable the watch officer to make sure what the intentions of the giveway vessel are. The most frequent action is to transmit five short acoustic signals or five short light signals by means of ALDIS. It is also possible to send a short message by means of messenger AIS this method is not very common in use. The use of acoustic signals or ALDIS makes it possible to see if a given vessel will give us way but only in a situation when the said vessel after sending signals takes action at once. VHF makes it possible to

3 explain why the give-way vessel is not acting accordingly. The interaction between the vessel obliged to keep out of the way and the one having the right of way can be divided into 4 phases. The first phase covers situations when the risk of collisions exists as the bearings of vessels do not change and the distance between them is still far and there is enough time to react. The stand-on vessel has nothing to be worried about. The second phase situation during which the give-way vessel should keep out of the way and if it does not take the action, then the stand-on vessel should find out what the intention of the former vessel are. In this phase the officer on watch on the stand-on vessel should use the above mentioned means to execute their rights. The third phase is the stage when both vessels have to maneuver in order to avoid collision and proceed safely. In the final phase it is too late to avoid collision and both vessels maneuver in order to minimize the scope of damage resulting from the collision. In the above presented phases it is recommended to use the radiotelephone during the second, third and fourth phase. The use of VHF during the second phase makes it possible to avoid collision by maneuvering of the stand-on vessel when it realized that the vessel supposed to have kept out of the way was not going to do so. During the third phase the watch officer has no time to discuss with the other vessel the maneuvers but they can inform the other vessel about their intentions, about their future course. This should force the other vessel to take the proper maneuver in order to avoid collision. They can also inform what maneuver they are performing and which maneuver is expected from the other vessel. During the fourth phase both vessels can try to minimize the results of collision, which is imminent, by informing the other vessel about their maneuvers. However, it should be noted that both phases, namely the third and the fourth last very short time and they are always accompanied by great stress and tension and the communication usually is unclear because of emotions of the people speaking. 4. USING OF VHF TO PREVENT COLLISION IN VTS AREA. Vessel Traffic systems were establish to improve safety of navigation in high traffic areas and in approach to ports. One of the most important tools to provide its services (Information service, navigational assistance service, traffic organization service) is VHF. VTS operator have a wide view of a traffic in its responsible area and also have various information about the vessels, like its draught, navigational status, port of destination etc. VTS can also easily identify vessel which is using VHF because most of them is equipped with radiodirection finders (RDF). All this information can help to prevent dangerous situation or risk of collision between vessels. VTS can contact with vessels and give an advice how to maneuvering or how to pass with other vessels. Officer in charge of the watch must remember that the VTS operator gives only the advice and the final decision must be made by captain considering all the information from equipment installed on the vessel and from information from VTS. Captains must also remember that not all VTS provide traffic organization service or in very high traffic VTS operators focus only on big vessels and on vessels carrying dangerous goods. Also very important is the quality of the service. As an example author of this paper has participate in a big event in Rostock were a lot of sailing vessels gather in port in one time. VTS respond only to reporting of the vessels and did not give any information about the traffic or did not try to regulate the order of entering to the port which brought on to 3 accident in 2 days. International regulation gives only guidelines about the services for VTS but do not standardize the quality of the service. It should be much more precisely define responsibility of VTS. 5. EXAMPLES OF COLLISIONS WITH IMPROPER COMMUNICATION Most of the sea accidents happened because of a lack, or because of improper VHF communication. Below, there are 2 very serious collisions (at sea) of Polish vessels which resulted in sinking. On 7 th December 2005 just after midnight a fully laden bulk carrier flying Monrovia colours Ziemia Łódzka collided with another bulk carrier Vertigo flying Jamaica flag. Apart from other mistakes made resulting from breaking Colreg rules, both vessels used VHF improperly to solve the collision situation. The attempt to start communication was too late, it could be treated as the final third phase and additionally it evoked emotions caused by offensive expressions. It can be seen in the recorded course of VTS communication between those two vessels.

4 Time Figure 1. Situation just before the Vertigo and the Ziemia Łódzka collided : Attention alter your course to starboard alter your course to starboard you are crazy. (No transmitter) : Ship on my starboard side you are crazy my friend. (No transmitter) : Vessel on my starboard side do you read me vessel on my starboard side do you read me. (No transmitter) : Mayday-Mayday-Mayday this is motor vessel VERTIGO All ships all ships we have collision we have collision we take the water in starboard side mayday-mayday-mayday all ships all ships all ships motor vessel VERTIGO we take water in starboard side : Lyngby Radio (LR): Ship calling mayday could you give me your position please (is repeated) As a result of the collision the vessel Vertigo sank and grounded. If the vessels had started communication during the second phase they would have had enough time to explain and correct their maneuvers. Another example illustrating the results of not using VHF to solve collision problems was the collision of the vessel under Cyprus flag and a Chinese vessel Fu Shanghai. Figure 2. The position of the and the Fu Shanghai just before the collision. As a result of the collision the Chinese vessel sank and the Cyprus vessel had her bow damaged. The collision took place at noon and the visibility was very good. Both vessels just before the collision had been maneuvering in this way that instead of solving the dangerous situation they were making it more serious. Tabele 1. Reports from Fu Shan Hai and just before collision. ECDIS ECDIS Report data Report from Fu data from from Fu Shan Hai from Shan Hai The Master is carrying out look-out bserving visually and with ARPA. Bearing 150, distance 7Mm. Course 280 speed 15 kn. CPA 0.7 Mm ahead of FU SHAN HAI. 2nd officer comes to the bridge on bridge

5 GDYNIA bearing 152,distance.4 Mm.Speed 13.8 kn. CPA 0.4 Mm ahead of FU SHAN HAI. Master gives a warning signal with the ship s whistle taking over the watch. Master leaves the bridge. The FU SHANHAI was sighted on starboard side,distanc e 4 Mm. marks on ARPIE Fu SHAN HAI236 speed kn. Distance. 4Mm CPA 0.8 Mm astern of GDYNIA. Distance to FU SHANHAI 2.8 Mm. Its course and speed constant. CPA decreased to 0.3 Mm. decides to alter course 25 to starboard speed 13.5Dis tance2.9 bearing 356 CP A 0.4 Mm. 237 speed 13.4kn Master orders Stop engines and gives warning signals until collision. CPA 0.4 Mm. 2nd Mate attempts to make contact with FU SHAN HAI via VHF but with no reply. turns to starboard manually. Master comes back to the bridge and stops the engines GDYNI altered to changes to 305 turns hard to starboar d. COLLISION COLLISION COLLIS ION Speed of FU SHAN HAI decreas es Speed of FU SHAN HAI decreas es to about 11kn. COLLIS ION As it can be seen in Figure 2 that the vessels did not communicate with each other (the second officer of the tries to do it five minutes before the collision but unsuccessfully) and had no possibility to explain that their maneuvers led to more and more dangerous situation. Course altered to 306.CPA 0.6 Mm ahead of GDYNIA. GDYNI A comme nces to turn to starboar d 6. CONCLUSIONS All vessels should avoid the use of VHF and unconditionally follow the collision regulations. Discussing possible maneuvers by VHF can lead to collisions, especially these maneuvers which are not compliant with Colreg. It can be the result of improper understanding of the situation or language

6 misunderstandings. Such an opinion was also expressed by English judges dealing with maritime cases. The use of radiotelephone could be helpful to transmit messages by vessels in order to warn other vessels in advance. Communication between vessels can be indispensable to explain why a give-way vessel is not taking the action. However, the contact via VHF must be carried out early enough as the stand-on vessel has enough time to perform anti-collision maneuver as soon as it is certain that the give-way vessel is not going to keep out of the way. The stand-on vessel should inform the other vessel about the fact that they commenced this maneuver. Another situation which makes the use of VHF indispensable is the situation when two vessels are in collision situation and it can be solved only when both vessels undertake the maneuvers. Such message should inform what maneuver is being performed and which maneuver is expected from the other vessel, so as these activities are coherent. Similar action should be taken in case of performing last moment maneuver. Another case can be observed if the vessels navigate in the area covered by VTS system. Here, the communication between vessels and the VTS center is a routine activity and its aim is to provide safe navigation in a given area. REFERENCE: Rymarz W Collision Regulation. IMO Resolutions. Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services. Klaas Van Dokkum. 2003, The Colregs Guide Chrlie Wing. The One- Minute Guide to the Nautical Rules of the Road. Cpt. R.A. Cahill. 3 rd Edition. Collisions and their causes.

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