Sinking off Scotland leads to questions about watch system

The chief officer of the 1,990-gross-ton general cargo ship Jambo fell asleep at the helm, causing the vessel to run aground and sink off the coast of Scotland on June 29, 2003, the United Kingdom’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch has concluded. All seven of the Polish crew were rescued.

The chief officer had been alone on the bridge for over an hour before the vessel hit a reef off the Summer Isles at 0515 on June 29 in calm seas. He had worked 12-hour days for at least 10 days before the grounding and was unable to sleep before he came onto his shift at midnight, according to the MAIB report.

The AB who served on the bridge with the chief officer was off doing rounds starting at 0355, leaving the chief officer alone. Jambo’s master ordinarily required an AB to be on the bridge between 2200 and 0600, during periods of poor visibility or when close to land, according to the report. The AB acted as lookout on the bridge during this period but was also required to check the engine and accommodation rooms every hour. The AB on this watch was a heavy smoker and was given permission by the chief officer to smoke in the mess room during his rounds, since he did not permit smoking on the bridge.

Image Credit: Photos courtesy U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency

The chief officer fell asleep between 0405 and 0415, missing a course change that would have taken Jambo northeast through the Minches, the straits between northwest Scotland and the Outer Hebrides. During that watch, the chief officer was working on voyage and cargo reports and on paperwork for the company’s safety management system.

The vessel struck rocks that opened a hole in the bow. The U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency dispatched three vessels to the scene. The crew were taken off the vessel, with no injuries, by Lochinver of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, between 0721 and 0859. Jambo sank at about 0930.

The Cypriot-flagged vessel was owned by Accent Shipping Co. Ltd. and managed by Reederei Hesse GmbH & Co. K.G., both of Germany. The single-hold cargo ship, built in 1990, was carrying 3,300 tons of zinc concentrate from Dublin, Ireland, bound for Odda, Norway. The vessel operated between Sweden, the Baltic ports, England and Ireland, usually on passages lasting one to three days, with one or two days spent in port, according to the MAIB report.

The incident raises questions about watchkeeper fatigue and manning requirements, particularly for the short-shipping sector. According to the report, bridge watchkeeper absence or incapacitation leads to more than six groundings a year in U.K. waters. The MAIB recommended that new rules requiring watchkeeper alarms on all vessels that operate with one person on watch should be introduced to the International Maritime Organization. The MAIB also suggested that three research projects now under way address the problem of bridge watchkeeper fatigue on an international basis.

Jambo’s master and chief officer worked a six-on, six-off system, according to the report. The chief officer took the 0000–0600 and 1200–1800 watches.

Although the chief officer’s work pattern generally followed hours-of-work regulations, these rules and company instructions “did not adequately protect the chief officer from the effects of fatigue, as they failed to cope with the disruption entailed in loading operations in port,” the report stated.

Image Credit: Photos courtesy U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency

The chief officer supervised cargo operations while in port. “This, invariably, led to disruption of the six-on, six-off pattern worked at sea,” the report said.

The rules under Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) require that all crew in charge of a watch receive a minimum of 10 hours’ rest in any 24-hour period. These hours of rest can be divided into no more than two periods, of which one shall be at least six hours.

But a six-on, six-off watch can be quite grueling, especially on a small ship. Richard Barry, director of the Transportation/Operations Management Department at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies, said that working “six on and six off, you can’t get adequate rest. You have to be able to get more sleep than that.”

The Qinetiq Centre for Human Sciences (formerly part of the U.K.’s Ministry of Defence) was hired by the MAIB to study the chief officer’s hours and routine before the grounding. The Qinetiq report concluded the chief officer had only six hours for overnight rest in Dublin, before Jambo left at 2100 on June 27. His last chance for a full night’s sleep was four nights before the accident took place.

The continual alternation between night work at sea and short periods in port, where work takes place during the day, can cause fatigue problems. In these cases, crew should be provided recovery time from night work while in port, so they can be well rested before heading out to sea, the Qinetiq report concluded.

The Qinetiq report also questioned the type of watch followed by the two officers. “The six-on, six-off work pattern may be tolerable for relatively extended periods, but the disruption of rest caused by periods of work in port inevitably causes high levels of fatigue and the six-on, six-off pattern does not facilitate recovery,” the Qinetiq report said. “This is a demanding work pattern, in which a high work rate is combined with frequent night work.”

After running a computer program used to predict fatigue in air crews, Qinetiq concluded that the chief officer’s work pattern “entailed a recurrent risk of fatigue likely to compromise his ability to perform watchkeeping duties reliably.”

Image Credit: Photos courtesy U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency

Jambo began taking on water after hitting rocks near Scotland’s Summer Isles. The single-hold cargo ship, which was carrying a load of zinc concentrate, sank about four hours after running aground.

The U.S. delegation to the IMO’s January meeting of the Sub-Committee on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping proposed that the IMO adopt education and training requirements for fatigue management. Consideration of that idea has been postponed until the next meeting.

However, John Bainbridge, assistant secretary of the seafarer’s section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, who was at the meeting, said the underlying problem is with manning requirements. “The watchkeeper rules aren’t the answer if you don’t have the men,” he said. When you add the burdens of new security rules to the duties crews have in port, vessels operating with seven or 10 crew are pushing the limits on safety, Bainbridge said.

The ITWF submitted a proposal to a recent STCW subcommittee meeting asking for a “holistic look at manning levels,” Bainbridge said. The proposal made it to the Maritime Safety Committee but was not taken up because of the push to pass new security regulations. Bainbridge doesn’t object to the call for more training on fatigue, but “what I don’t want is to put a model course in and make it mandatory, while we walk away from the real problem — we just don’t have enough people.”

The Maritime & Coastguard Agency received funding in January to hire an outside company to investigate fatigue issues and safe manning levels on vessels traveling in European Union waters, according to Martin Collins, an agency spokesman.

By Professional Mariner Staff