Failure to make use of electronic chart cited as factor in grounding

Inattention to an electronic chart system and a breakdown of communications on the bridge contributed to the grounding of the containership ANL Excellence in Moreton Bay off the coast of Queensland in 2002, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has concluded.

ANL Excellence lies at anchor in Moreton Bay after it was refloated. The ship ran aground on its way to Brisbane.
   Image Credit: Australian Transport Safety Bureau

At 0318 on July 19, 2002, ANL Excellence embarked a Brisbane Marine pilot off Port Cartwright for the passage to the Fisherman Islands container terminal in the Port of Brisbane. Once aboard, the pilot joined the master, mate and helmsman on the bridge. At 0518, the 797-foot ship entered the East Channel, passing channel marker E1. At the time, a light rain was falling, but visibility was reasonable.

The ship proceeded at a heading of 191°, passing lit channel markers E2, E3 and E4. As the ship passed E3, the pilot ordered a course change to 240º. A temporary channel marker was in the position of channel marker E5 (the “turning mark”) that had been destroyed by a ship 15 months before. No one on the bridge saw the temporary channel marker.

The pilot held an unlimited license and had piloted more than 400 ships in the area. As part of their normal operating procedure, Brisbane pilots carry a portable electronic charting system (ECS) on a laptop computer. While these portable units are not meant to replace the ship’s own navigation equipment, they are used in conjunction with the ship’s systems and navigational charts.

The master had been monitoring one of the two bridge radars. Following the pilot’s course change, the master noticed a dramatic change in the relative bearings of beacons E4 and E2. He questioned the helmsman about this. The master was unaware of the pilot’s course change to starboard. At the same time, the pilot went to his laptop to check his position on the ECS. The pilot found that the screen was blank because the laptop had entered a power-saving mode. Once he brought up the screen, the pilot realized that he had ordered the course change too early, ahead of channel marker E5. The main engine was then stopped and put astern, but it was too late, and the ship ran aground on Middle Bank.

The ATSB investigation concluded that the pilot did not follow his normal procedure of using his ECS to check his position as he ordered the change in course, perhaps because the laptop was placed a significant distance from where he was standing. By the time the pilot tried to use the laptop, the power-saving mode resulted in a delay before the pilot could verify the ship’s position.

The board also noted that the temporary channel marker may have been obscured by the rain or may have gone unnoticed because it was lit green, unlike the other channel markers that were all lit white. According to the report, “Neither the master nor the mate were sufficiently aware of the ship’s situation, at the time, to challenge the pilot’s premature order for a course alteration. Insufficient attention was paid to the ship’s radar display.” It went on to say that “the interpersonal tension between the master and the mate effectively nullified the active participation of one qualified navigator in the bridge team.”

The ship was refloated with the aid of its engines and two tugs on the high tide later the same day. Once the ship was at anchor, the hull was inspected for damage and deemed sound. There were no injuries associated with the incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff