Dangers of mismatched passage plans

Bridge teams need to work to the same passage plans
The Molly Manx grounded in Otago Harbour while under pilotage
The Molly Manx grounded in Otago Harbour while under pilotage
CMA CGM’s ultra-large containership got into trouble in Southampton. Credit: Kees Torn
CMA CGM’s ultra-large containership got into trouble in Southampton. Credit: Kees Torn
Industry Database

Ports need to marry onshore passage planning with the plans completed by calling ships to prevent incidents, explains Dave MacIntyre

Is there a need for ports to meet the high standards of passage planning that are required for vessels? The question arises after a grounding incident in New Zealand which showed the pilot was following a different passage plan than the bridge crew, and that the ship’s Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) was not on settings to match those the pilot was following.

Given that a grounded ship which blocks the channel potentially stops a port from working, the assumption could be that ports ensure there is consistency in the passage planning between the ship’s officers and the pilot.

However, the case of the Molly Manx in New Zealand shows this is often not the case, and that this is an international problem.

The Molly Manx grounded on August 19, 2016 in Otago Harbour while under pilotage. The vessel was approaching a narrow passage between two islands with the pilot navigating. He lost awareness of exactly where the vessel was in the channel and the influence the tide was having on its progress.

The New Zealand Transport Investigation Commission reported that it is essential that the pilot and the master (including other members of the bridge team) have a shared understanding of the passage plan.

That did not happen with the Molly Manx. The pilot navigated to the standard port company passage plan using visual references as he had been trained to do. The vessel had its own passage plan, which differed from that of the port company.

Moreover, the vessel had its own passage plan loaded into the ECDIS, which the bridge team, excluding the pilot, used to monitor the vessel’s progress.

The result was that the vessel deviated from the intended track and grounded on a sand bank. With the aid of its engine and a tug, she was able to reverse off. There was no breach of the hull, and damage was limited to the bottom paintwork.

International problem

On the other side of the world, at the UK port of Southampton, only three days after the Molly Manx incident in New Zealand, the ultra-large container vessel CMA CGM Vasco de Gama grounded in the Thorn Channel while approaching the port.

Two of the port’s specialist container ship pilots were onboard. The ship ran aground on a rising tide on a flat shingle/sand sea-bed. A combination of tugs and ship’s engines enabled her to be re-floated soon after.

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch studied the human factors associated with the use of modern electronic navigation aids and the implementation of mandated navigation standards.

It found that the standards of navigation, communication and effective use of the electronic charting aids onboard did not meet the expectations of the port or the shipping company. A detailed plan had not been produced; the lead pilot had not briefed his plan for the turn round Bramble Bank; and the bridge team’s roles and responsibilities were unclear.

There was an absence of a shared understanding of the pilot’s intentions for passing other vessels, or for making the critical turns. Neither the ship’s ECDIS nor the pilot’s Portable Pilot Unit (PPU) were fully utilised which resulted in each system not providing adequate cross checks or alarms.

Meeting standards

The similarity of the cases in New Zealand and the UK underline that this is an international issue. Few countries require pilotage providers to produce and use passage plans that are of the same standard as those which ships are required to produce.

The Chief Investigator of Accidents at the New Zealand TAIC, Captain Tim Burfoot, says the dilemma faced in most countries is how to seamlessly integrate a harbour pilot, with their specialist local knowledge, with the ship’s crew in what is often a very short space of time. The TAIC recommendations are aimed at making this easier to achieve.

Captain Ben van Scherpenzeel, chairman of the International Taskforce Port Call Optimization, agrees that this is an international issue.

“Indeed, the port passage plan of the pilot is normally not relayed to the ship prior to arrival. To avoid any discussions on arrival, it would be good if the port passage plan of the pilot meets the same standards as the port passage plan of the ship. It would be good to send the plan to the ship prior to arrival, allowing sufficient time for the bridge team to enter the waypoints into the ECDIS,” he says.

Way forward

The TAIC investigation has created change in New Zealand. Port Otago is issuing all pilots with Pilot Personal Units, a ‘virtual’ beacon is to be put in over the shoal where the Molly Manx ran aground, using the AIS system, and the maximum size of bulk vessel to be allowed to navigate in the upper harbour is to be reduced.

Otago’s general manager marine and infrastructure, Captain Sean Bolt, says the issue of shared passage plans still requires a lot of discussion among regulators and ports. Otago makes its passage plans available on its website so ships can manually enter the information into their ECDIS systems.

NZ Maritime Pilots’ Association President Steve Banks says the case highlights the need to reappraise ongoing training and assessment practices, to ensure pilots and port companies have the fullest understanding of error management, as human error is present in the vast majority of incidents.

“Although the IMO sets standards to achieve consistency in operations internationally, addressing the human element is paramount, as this is our weakest link and currently for me is the biggest challenge ahead for our profession worldwide.”

At an international level, the answer to the passage plan issue lies with the IMO.

The Molly Manx report will be submitted to the IMO, where an analyst from the Casualty Correspondence Group will identify the safety issues and ascertain if there are other reports which identify the same issues.

If the problem is deemed serious or widespread enough, it could be accepted on the IMO work programme. The challenge then comes in getting a majority agreement among member states to address the issue.

IMO resolutions tend to be levelled at standards of ships and safe navigation for shipping, but some address port operations. States are required to provide reception facilities to take waste oil off ships, with ports being required to provide the same level of security as the ships that visit them.

There isn’t an international requirement for ports to run similar safety management systems as ships (the ISM code), although there are a few countries that have introduced the concept for ports, of which New Zealand is one.

There is, however, work underway at IMO to achieve common standards for ECDIS. If successful, this would overcome the issue whereby the various ECDIS manufactures use different software logic, which currently makes it difficult to produce an electronic plan that can be imported into any ship’s ECDIS.

The International Taskforce Port Call Optimization is working hard to improve the quality of master and event data in ports via the Avanti and Pronto projects. Capt van Scherpenzeel says port passage plans are an important part of master data, which will be addressed by the project.


Both the New Zealand Transport Accident Safety Commission and the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch made safety recommendations after their investigations.

TAIC recommended: “One method of ensuring that an approved passage plan is available on board would be for port companies or harbour authorities to make available to vessels properly constructed and validated passage plans that meet the port-specific standards and guidelines included in Chapter V, Safety of Navigation, of the Annex to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), and Resolution A.893(21) Guidelines for Voyage Planning.

“Such a system would assist in onboard passage planning and allow a vessel to be better prepared when the pilot boards. This action would greatly assist the smooth transition of the pilot into the bridge team at a time of typically high workload and little time before the pilotage begins.”

The MAIB recommended that ABP Southampton improve bridge resource management for its pilots; consider the provision of provisional pilotage plans to vessels before pilot embarkation; review its implementation of procedures; and improve standards of communication.

It also recommended CMA CGM review the implementation of company procedures for passage planning and the use of ECDIS, and include pilotage and bridge team/pilot integration in its internal audit process.


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