The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its report into the collision of the WWII-era training boat Peggotty and the ro/ro Petunia Seaways, and has concluded that the Peggotty's use of an iPad as primary means of navigation was a key factor behind the accident.
The Peggotty's owner and skipper, David Carlin, held an unlimited master's license and worked as a pilot on the Humber. He was in the process of selling the historic WWII training vessel, and in the early hours of May 19, 2016, he took a buyer's representative on board for a short trip on the Humber estuary. The representative was also well qualified, having served as an engineer in the Royal Navy and as the skipper of a safety boat.
The men set out with the vessel’s radar mast lowered in order to clear a bridge, which left her radar inoperable. In addition, her port sidelight was out and her GPS-enabled chart plotter did not have proper charts for the area. Since the vessel lacked electronic charts, the buyer’s representative volunteered the use of his iPad, which was equipped with a marine navigation app.
At about the same time, the ro/ro Petunia Seaways cast off from her berth. Visibility was poor, at about 300 feet, but the Seaways did not turn on her automatic fog signal. Soon after departure, her chief officer informed VTS that visibility was zero.
At 0432, Carlin used a handheld VHF radio to contact the local VTS operator. The VTS called back to inform him that his transmission was "very quiet, barely readable," but he did not reply. At about the same time, the iPad's navigation app stopped working due to the loss of its wifi connection.
Unbeknownst to Carlin, the Peggotty crossed into the main shipping channel at 0444 and into the path of the Petunia Seaways, which was making about 14 knots in the outbound lane. The Seaways' master noticed an unidentified, intermittent radar return forward of the starboard beam and sounded one long blast by way of a warning. He altered course slightly to port to give the unidentified object additional room.
Aboard the Peggotty, Carlin and the buyer's representative grew concerned that they had already entered the channel. They heard the ro/ro's signal, but could not identify the direction it came from. Carlin tried to call VTS again but his VHF transmission was not received. Moments later, he saw the Petunia's bow; despite evasive maneuvers, collision was unavoidable, and Carlin ducked back into the cabin to warn the buyer’s representative. The Petunia struck the Peggotty on the stern, spinning her to starboard and pushing her down. Despite the impact, the Petunia's crew and passengers were not aware of the collision.
The Peggotty began to take on water and Carlin transmitted a mayday message at 0458. The pilot launch Venus responded and arrived on scene at 0510.She rescued the two men from the deck of the sinking boat, and the Peggotty went down at about 0520, half an hour after she was struck.
The MAIB concluded that multiple factors were to blame: the aging Peggotty's unseaworthy condition; Carlin's failure to reassess his passage plan in light of the heavy fog; insufficient action from the master of the Petunia Seaways; and the failure of the Seaways to sound the appropriate fog signal. In addition, MAIB noted that "the apparent functionality of the iPad navigation app gave both men [on the Peggotty] false confidence in their ability to navigate safely in the dense fog." Neither of them had used the system before and they made no back-up arrangements for determining their position and the movements of other vessels. When the iPad lost its wifi signal and the app stopped working, "Peggotty was immersed in the fog with no buoyage visible and the skipper lost his situational awareness entirely."
In response to the investigation, the Associated British Ports suspended Carlin from his duties as a pilot and suspended the Seaways' master’s Pilotage Exemption Certificate. Both men were prosecuted and fined by the Hull Magistrates Court on February 3 for “conduct endangering ships.”