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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

Collision at Sea

Shipwreck Iberia
Iberia struck by Umbria

How do two ships in the wide ocean collide? It seems unlikely, and yet it happens all the time. Often, the ocean is not all that wide. Many collisions occur in shipping lanes and port approaches, where ships are brought together in close proximity. Here are some videos of actual collisions between ships:

Collision at Sea - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Collision at Sea - New Jersey Scuba Diving

This video is actually boring. The two huge tankers approach each-other at a snail's pace, and everyone is completely aware of what is happening. Yet, even before the beginning of the video, the collision is inevitable. Large ships are not maneuverable. Stopping distances and turn radii are measured in miles - they're not like your car. Once a collision like this is set up, there is often nothing that can be done to avert it.

Weather here is not perfectly clear, but visibility is still several miles. How could this happen? One ship does the ramming, the other gets rammed, but which vessel is at fault? There's no way to tell without seeing the courses that led up to the collision, and even then, maybe they are both at fault. Fortunately, they don't hit hard.

Collision at Sea - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Collision at Sea - New Jersey Scuba Diving

In this video, things move much faster, to a tragic end. The video begins just after the smaller vessel has been hit by the larger. It is a fatal blow, and the 'victim' sinks in minutes, taking 3 crew and 1 passenger with it. In this collision, weather is largely to blame - there is fog and a rain squall obscuring visibility. Still, under such conditions, neither ship was using their radar set? Who was at fault? No decision was ever handed down. It takes two ...

Collision at Sea - New Jersey Scuba Diving Another video from NJScuba.net -- Collision at Sea - New Jersey Scuba Diving

This collision is inexplicable. By the propwash, you can see the larger vessel is in full reverse. One of them is blowing their horn continuously, yet the smaller vessel seems to be oblivious. Once the larger vessel goes into reverse, it loses steering and can only go straight ahead, but the smaller vessel could easily have turned away to starboard. My guess is that in the minutes leading up to the collision, the smaller vessel cut in front of the larger one from starboard to port. Who was driving? Probably no one. This looks to me like the smaller vessel is clearly at fault, even though it is the one getting struck.

Compared to modern motor ships, sailing ships are stunningly unmaneuverable. Last minute collision avoidance is basically impossible. Fog has always been a big cause of collisions, as well as darkness and rain. You'd think that in this age of radar and gps, poor visibility would not be a problem, but there is still no substitute for being able to see with your own eyes. Too often, even with all the modern technology available to them, people just don't use it.

Almost all collisions at sea are the result of human error. Most often, someone simply was not paying attention. Or going too fast. Commercial fishermen work themselves to exhaustion, then fall asleep at the wheel. Tugboat skippers get distracted. Etc. A lot of small-boaters are simply idiots, and there is also drugs and alcohol. Some collisions are the result of mechanical failure, such as the Mohawk, who's steeering gear went awry and drove her into the path of the Talisman, but such cases are the minority.

Collisions can also occur with the shoreline, buoys, navigational structures, floating debris, and anything else that is out there. Shouldn't forget icebergs. If they ever build that offshore windfarm, it will be bowling for windmills. Sunken windmills might make pretty cool dive sites.

Below is an article I found that details a collision between two ships:

Real Life Accident: Collision Leads To Massive Explosion, Kills Nine Crew Members

By MARS Reports, May 25, 2016

Several vessels, including Ship A and Ship C, were in a traffic lane heading about 130 degrees true. Ship B was in the process of crossing this traffic lane in order to integrate the opposite-bound lane. Visibility was good and seas were light.

On the crossing vessel, Ship B, the 3rd officer was OOW ( Officer on Watch. ) The Chief Officer (CO) and the 2nd officer were present on the bridge too, as was a helmsman. The CO was plotting targets on the ARPA radar to assist the OOW. The Master was also on the bridge from time to time monitoring the traffic. Initially, the 2nd officer was setting up the GPS units, but afterwards he was chatting and joking with the OOW and CO in addition to catching up with some work on the chart table. The 2nd officer’s presence appears to have been a source of distraction to the OOW and the CO.

Image credits: nautinst.org
Image credits: nautinst.org

The OOW on Ship B stated they would allow Ship A to pass ahead. The OOW on Ship A expressed surprise at this, as he had initially expected Ship B to alter course to port to join the traffic lane. When Ship B’s OOW then declared their intention to alter course to starboard, Ship A’s OOW considered this as an acceptable course of action for a crossing situation.

Later, the OOW of Ship A had identified that a close quarters situation was continuing to develop with Ship B. He expressed concern on the VHF radio several times; a bigger alteration of course to starboard by Ship B was urgently required.


At 20:45, the CO on ship B informed the OOW that one of the targets was a false echo. This was an incorrect assumption and could easily have been clarified by visual observation. In fact, the bridge team had mistaken Ship C, also in the traffic lane, for Ship A, and assumed the actual echo of Ship A was a false echo. In the final minutes before the collision, the team on Ship B also mistakenly identified a fourth ship as Ship A. At 20.52 a collision occurred between Ship A and Ship B; Ship B was at about 11kt ( full ahead maneuvering ) and Ship A was at 13.5kt ( full ahead sea speed. )

A massive explosion occurred on Ship A as a cargo tank ruptured and naphtha was spilt and ignited. The ignited spill engulfed the sea surrounding the two vessels. On Ship A, nine crew members were killed and other crew members injured. Three crew members were injured on board Ship B. Both vessels incurred substantial fire and structural damage as a result of the collision. Shockingly, of the many vessels in the vicinity at the time of the accident only one stopped to assist.

Some of the findings of the official report were as follows:

Lessons learned:

* International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972

** Any moving object that approaches on a steady relative bearing is on a collision course with you. You can see this even in your car: if another car is crossing your path and stays in the same spot on the windshield as the distance closes, you are going to hit.

Who hits who is often a matter of split-second timing at the last moment. Who is at fault is another matter entirely. For example, here is the course plot of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm:

Andrea Doria collision

Stockholm was outbound inshore of the inbound shipping lane, Andrea Doria was inbound in the inbound lane. But shipping lanes then were more suggestions than rules or laws. Andrea Doria was in heavy fog, Stockholm was not.

If both vessels had simply gone straight and made an improper but otherwise safe starboard-to-starboard passing, neither one would have made history. Instead, Stockholm attempted to make a proper port-to-port passing, cutting in front of the Andrea Doria. The Andrea Doria was apparently not paying attention, and altered course to widen the distance for a starboard-to-starboard passing. In the process, she maneuvered directly into the path of the Stockholm.

Stockholm was doing the technically correct thing, although in this case probably not the right thing. Andrea Doria made what would have been a sensible maneuver, ten minutes earlier. Who is to blame? I'd say both of them, the Doria for not keeping up with events on the radar scope, and the Stockholm for making an unexpected maneuver. Both ships also could have communicated via radio.

If the Stockholm had been a little faster, or the Doria a little slower, or the courses altered just a tiny bit, we could have the following headline instead:

Andrea Doria Slices Stockholm in Two

Swedish Ship Sinks In Minutes, Few Survivors

In the same vein:

Stolt Dagali Bumps Shalom

Liner Badly Scraped, Will Need Paint Job

MV Pinta Strikes City of Perth, Sinks



I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

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since 2016-09-11