Study Finds Hazards in Anti-Collision System

Marine insurers claim that Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) promote over-confidence and complacency. Because of the introduction of AIS, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Automatic Radar Plotting Aid, and electronic charts, bridge teams now have the full picture of all vessels in their vicinity, including track and speed data.

Yet, there are still too many collisions that occur. The report says that AIS is an excellent tool, but bridge crews may take greater risks when trying to avoid a collision. One issue already identified is the concentration of vessels on the 'optimum track' as indicated by the GPS.

There is a temptation to accept narrow margins, which leave no room for error. Safety margins exist to accommodate the possibility of error or misunderstanding.

The Swedish Insurers Club's latest study determined that Hull & Machinery (H&M) claims cost over $2 million in the February, 2004-July, 2005 period. During the 18 months reviewed, collisions accounted for six of the 15 of H&M claims in this category. All six collisions occurred during the night hours or in poor visibility in calm sea conditions.

Furthermore, five of the six collisions occurred in the China/Taiwan/Singapore region. In 2004, collisions represented 15 percent of the Club's H&M claims, yet they accounted for 55 percent of total H&M claims costs. The latter proportion represents a doubling in just five years.

Five of the six major collisions studied in the 18 months were the consequence of human factors, such as lack of situational awareness and failure to adhere to rules and correct procedures. In two of the six collisions, AIS was in use as a navigational aid. In one instance, the wrong ship was contacted at a critical moment. In the other, the AIS was not functioning correctly.

In many ways, AIS is the last piece in the collision avoidance technological jigsaw puzzle. We are now left with the human component. No matter how advanced the bridge equipment outfit, there can be no compromise with respect to strict adherence to correct collision avoidance procedures, which provide for appropriate safety margins. Close passing is always dangerous, with or without the new technology.

Safe navigation in busy waters is demanding and requires intense concentration. Given the pressures of modern ship operation, there are no grounds for adopting a collision avoidance strategy with low safety margins.

The Swedish Club's report says there is no immunity against human error or the possibility that other vessels will not behave as expected. The Club is going to redouble its efforts to raise awareness of such problems.