When cargo vessel MV Kaami ran aground off the coast of Scotland, in a gale at night, accident investigators found aspects of ECDIS misuse, which, they say, are becoming an increasingly common industry problem that needs to be addressed.
In the early hours of 23 March 2020, the general cargo vessel MV Kaami ran aground in the Little Minch – a sea passage through Scotland’s Inner and Outer Hebrides – while on passage from Ireland to Sweden.
The crew were safely evacuated by coastguard helicopter but Kaami’s hull was so badly damaged the ship was declared a constructive total loss and scrapped.
A report into the accident by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that the crew had failed to identify the hazard ahead of them – even after receiving warnings from a local fishing boat.
Turbulent seas and reliance on autopilot
The incident occurred in a Force 9 gale with rough following seas, at night and under total cloud cover, while Kaami’s chief officer (CO) was on watch monitoring the ship’s radar and ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System).
Kaami’s voyage plan and planned track was not following the recommended IMO route through the channel. It was, instead, following an autopilot-controlled course, one mile north of a south cardinal mark, at a speed of 10 knots.
At 0135, Kaami was contacted by the fishing vessel Ocean Harvest via VHF radio to warn Kaami’s crew that they were headed towards ‘shoal waters’.
Local fishermen are well aware that while the Little Minch offers some shelter from the Atlantic, its waters can become very turbulent due to its uneven seabed.
Waters in Little Minch can become very turbulent (Credit: Shutterstock)
Kaami’s CO thanked Ocean Harvest for the information, confirming that he understood and that he would soon be altering the vessel’s course, which he then did, by 10 degrees to starboard, according to Kaami’s pre-determined voyage plan.
Ten minutes later, Kaami’s crew felt two heavy impacts as the vessel came to a sudden stop. Realising they were aground, Kaami’s CO contacted Stornoway Coastguard Operations Centre (CGOC) to report the situation.
Stornoway CGOC immediately tasked several rescue assets to assist, a lifeboat and a 70m (230ft) emergency towing vessel, Ievoli Black.
As Kaami ’s movements on the rocks began to worsen, the crew mustered on the bridge in their immersion suits and life jackets.
The ship’s movement then became so violent that the crew – unable to stand safely – were forced to lie down on the floor of the bridge.
All were eventually winched off the vessel – safely and uninjured – by a coastguard helicopter and taken to Stornoway.
The MAIB’s accident investigation report points out that:
- No minimum UKC (under keel clearance) calculation had been carried out, and there was no SMS (safety management system) guidance on what a safe minimum UKC should be – or the preferred method for calculating it
- The crew’s voyage planning was undertaken using inappropriately-scaled ENCs (electronic navigation charts)
- The safety check function was not used to verify the voyage plan
- The look ahead functions – which would have given an alert to the danger of grounding – were not activated
- ECDIS training undertaken by the crew had not equipped them with the level of knowledge and skill necessary to operate the system effectively.
The Kaami followed an autopilot-controlled course, one mile north of a cardinal mark (Credit: Shutterstock)
The MAIB report notes that the ECDIS errors highlighted are similar to other recent incidents, including:
- The passenger ferry Commodore Clipper, which grounded on a charted, rocky shoal in the approaches to St Peter Port, Guernsey, UK, in 2014, when its ECDIS had a safety contour value that was inappropriate, an audible alarm that was disabled, and a cross-track error alarm that was ignored
- The bulk carrier Muros, which ran aground, which ran aground on Haisborough Sands – a ten-mile-long shoal off England’s Norfolk coast – in 2016, because visual checks of its track in the ECDIS – using a small-scale chart – did not identify the area to be unsafe, and that warnings of the dangers automatically generated by the system’s ‘check route’ function were ignored.
The MAIB has asked Kaami’s operating company – Misje Rederi AS – to review the number of watch-keepers on its vessels with the aim of minimising hazards associated with fatigue, and to improve the guidance given in its ships’ safety management systems on the effective use of ECDIS. Misje Rederi AS has also been asked to enhance its internal navigation audits.
Wider probe into seafarers’ ECDIS use
The MAIB has now begun working with the Danish Marine Accident Investigation Branch (DMAIB) to research the reasons why seafarers are, increasingly, using ECDIS in ways that are often at variance with the instructions and guidance provided by the system manufacturers and regulators.
They hope to gain a clearer understanding of the practical application and usability of ECDIS in order to support future ECDIS design, training, and development of best practices. The final joint MAIB/DMAIB ECDIS study is due to be published later this year.
Read the full MAIB report into Kaami’s grounding.
See video footage of how Kaami was decommissioned and dismantled last summer (June 2020) at Kishorn Dry Dock, Scotland, by John Lawrie Metals Ltd.
Dennis O’Neill is a freelance journalist specialising in maritime.