By Dan Walsh
Two large passenger ferries had to take evasive action to avoid a collision near the entrance to the port of Rosslare Harbour on the morning of March 16th, 2022.
Details have been published in a report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) of what was described as a “close quarter incident” when two vessels passed within 100 metres of each other outside the harbour breakwater.
The MCIB said both vessels had to take evasive action to avoid a collision. The incident involved the “Connemara” operated by Brittany Ferries which was arriving from the Spanish port of Bilbao and Stena Line UK’s “Stena Europe” which had just left Rosslare Harbour on a sailing to Fishguard.
Both vessels are under the management of different companies within the Stena group. The MCIB report said Connemara had arrived at the port around 45 minutes ahead of its scheduled arrival time of 8.15am.
However, it said the ship did not follow instructions issued by Rosslare Port Control to wait outside the harbour and proceeded instead towards the breakwater. The crew of Connemara claimed they had no option but to maintain speed due to a strong northerly breeze.
Meanwhile, Stena Europe had been given permission to sail and had departed its berth unaware that Connemara was approaching the breakwater. At 7.27am, an officer on the bridge of Stena Europe was recorded saying: “He is right in the way” before the ferry turned its rudder hard to starboard.
The MCIB said the failure of the Brittany Ferries vessel to carry out the advice of the port authorities to wait outside the harbour was a causative factor of the incident as was the failure of Rosslare Port Control to ensure its instructions were followed.
The report observed that Rosslare Port Control did not attempt to clarify the intentions of either vessel or highlight the possibility of a close-quarter situation even when it was clear such an incident had become inevitable. It found the port controller had at least six minutes to clarify with Connemara about its intentions but did not do so.
The report said poor bridge team management and inappropriate VHF radio procedures were a contributory factor.
The MCIB said the incident could have been avoided if both vessels had complied with the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea that a proper lookout must be always kept by all available means. It noted Stena Europe’s bridge team were not monitoring traffic but relying on port officials.
The report also highlighted how the port controller had no maritime qualifications or maritime training. “The lack of training and maritime experience made it very difficult for the port controller to fully appreciate the potential consequences of allowing a close-quarter situation to develop,” it added.
In response to a series of recommendations made by the MCIB, Stena said the bridge team of Connemara had been sent on a bridge management course.
Stena’s own investigation into the incident concluded that the vessel had not followed the advice from the port controller due to a lack of communications between the bridge team. Stena said it also informed crews that the safety of the vessel takes priority over rigidly adhering to its schedule.
The MCIB said the Minister for Transport should also consider introducing legislation to ensure personnel working in safety critical roles in harbour control had suitable training and qualifications.