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MAIB concerned about ECDIS

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The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch has released its report on the grounding of a chemical tanker last fall. No one was hurt and there was no pollution, but the MAIB credited improper use of ECDIS as the cause of the grounding.


M/V Ovit’s primary means of navigation was an electronic chart display and information system (ECDIS), but the passage plan unsafely took the vessel directly over the Varne Bank in Dover Strait. The plan had been prepared in ECDIS by an inexperienced and unsupervised junior officer and was not checked by the master before departure, the MAIB found.


The OOW followed the track but “had such poor situational awareness that it took him 19 minutes to realize the vessel was aground,” according to the report.


ECDIS safety settings were not appropriate to the local conditions, and the audible alarm was disabled, the report stated.


“This is the third grounding investigated by the MAIB where watchkeepers’ failure to use an ECDIS properly has been identified as one of the causal factors,” Steve Clinch, chief inspector of marine accidents at MAIB, wrote in the report. “As this report is published, there are over 30 manufacturers of ECDIS equipment, each with their own designs of user interface, and little evidence that a common approach is developing. Generic ECDIS training is mandated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but it is left to flag states and owners to decide whether or not type-specific training is necessary and, if so, how it should be delivered.


“As experience of ECDIS systems improves, evidence indicates that many owners are concluding that type-specific training is essential, though some are resorting to computer-based training once the watchkeeper is on board,” Clinch wrote. “In this accident, however, despite dedicated training ashore on the system they were to use, the operators’ knowledge of the ECDIS and ability to navigate their vessel safely using the system were wholly inadequate.


“Unfortunately, the current generation of ECDIS systems, though certified as complying with regulatory requirements, can be operated at a very low level of functionality and with key safety features disabled or circumvented. Training and company culture may mitigate these shortcomings to some extent, but can only go so far.


“While systems allow individuals to operate them in a sub-standard manner, there are those who will do so: such is human nature. Navigation is a safety-critical function and failure to navigate effectively can and does result every year in pollution, loss of vessels, and loss of life. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the next generation of ECDIS will embody features making them less vulnerable to the vagaries of human performance to achieve a better level of assurance that safe navigation is being consistently achieved.”


Recommendations have been made to the MCA and other groups aimed at improving the standard of navigational inspections of vessels using ECDIS as the primary means of navigation. A further recommendation to the MCA is intended to ensure that the Channel Navigation Information Service is manned appropriately. A recommendation has also been made to Marine Information Systems AS intended to improve the functionality of its ECDIS 900.


To read the full report, visit www.maib.gov.uk and search “ovit”.


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