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IncidentsNews & ReportsOffshore

Grounded of Vessel ‘Priscilla’

OOW preferred to watch videos on his mobile phone

UK based Marine Accident Investigations Branch report revealed the facts behind the grounding of General cargo vessel ‘Priscilla’, in  Pentland Skerries, Pentland Firth, Scotland

Netherlands registered Priscilla, with length overall 88.97m, departed from Klaipeda, Lithuania on 14 July 2018 with a cargo of 3300 tonnes (t) of fertilizer, bound for Silloth, England. Once outside the Skagerrak, Priscilla commenced a direct passage across the North Sea towards Pentland Firth

At 0443 local time on 18th July 2018, Priscilla ran aground on Pentland Skerries at night in calm sea conditions, fine weather and good visibility. 

The grounding occurred because Priscilla was set to the south of the planned track and the OOW did not take appropriate action to resolve this. Instead of returning to the planned track, the OOW chose an alternative route that took the vessel over a charted reef of rocks, MAIB reported. 

According to recently released MAIB report, as Priscilla approached danger, none of the aids to safe navigation were in use, and the systems designed to help keep the OOW alert or warn others of his incapacitation had been disabled. 

With no additional lookout posted and the BNWAS switched of, the OOW was able to watch videos on his phone and lose interest in the safe navigation of the vessel. 

This situation was underpinned by the absence of detailed guidance in the SMS or specifc guidance in the watch order book. Steering by the standalone autopilot and without a safety corridor in the ECDIS, Priscilla was susceptible to the tidal stream setting the vessel of course and this deviation did not trigger an alarm to warn the OOW.

It is of concern that this accident is characterized by common causal factors identified in previous investigations into groundings of small cargo vessels while on passage, MAIB stated.

In the following days and at high water, two unsuccessful attempts were made to haul Priscilla of the rocks using tugs. On 20 July 2018, a salvage team arrived on board Priscilla and 3 days later, after a partial cargo discharge, the vessel was refloated and towed clear of Pentland Skerries.

Following a diver inspection at Scapa Flow, Priscilla proceeded under its own power to Silloth to complete the cargo discharge. 

Thereafter, Priscilla proceeded to dry dock in Swansea, Wales where a full inspection revealed extensive structural damage throughout the forward section of the hull, including gouging and distortion to the shell plating.

The grounding caused significant hull damage but there was no pollution or injury.

Priscilla’s grounding was reconstructed in a bridge simulator7 . The aim of the reconstruction was to gain an appreciation of the environment of the accident and potential factors influencing decision-making. Priscilla’s movement for the 1-hour period prior to grounding was reconstructed using AIS track data.

Observations The key observations made during the reconstruction were: 

● The Pentland Skerries lighthouse was visible throughout, observed on Priscilla’s starboard bow. 

● All four islands in Pentland Skerries painted on radar on the 12-mile range scale with Muckle Skerry and Little Skerry observed as significantly larger targets than Louther Skerry or Clettack Skerry. 

● Muckle Skerry’s radar return was assessed as suitable for a radar parallel index. 

● Throughout the simulation, the radar display ship’s head marker was passing between Muckle Skerry and Little Skerry. 

● Pentland Skerries were visible in the twilight conditions and the Orkney Islands and Scottish mainland were just visible in the distance.

The MAIB holds records of 194 groundings of cargo vessels between 500gt and 3000gt that occurred in UK waters between 2008 and 2017. 

Nine of these groundings, six of which occurred when the vessel was on passage, resulted in a full MAIB investigation and a published report. In five of the six groundings where the vessel was on passage, the BNWAS was switched of and there was no additional lookout on the bridge. Other recurring themes in these accidents include: ineffective use of ECDIS, poor standards of watchkeeping, insufficient passage planning and falsification of hours of work and rest records.


1. Priscilla grounded because it drifted to the south of its planned track and the OOW did not correct this deviation when there was ample opportunity to do so. 

2. Instead of returning the vessel to the planned track, the OOW chose an alternative and unsafe route. This decision was based solely on radar information and had not utilized the navigational information available. 

3. Two verbal warnings of the danger ahead were made directly to Priscilla by VHF radio when there was sufficient sea room available to take avoiding action. The response by Priscilla’s OOW to the warning from Shetland CGOC was vague, but went unchallenged by the watchkeeper ashore. Despite repeated warnings from the Orkney VTSO, the actions of Priscilla’s OOW indicated that onboard situational awareness was insufficient to recognize which way to turn the vessel away from danger. 

4. The OOW’s use of a mobile phone for watching music videos when assigned the duty of OOW was a significant distraction; however, there was no guidance or control on board regarding the use of mobile electronic devices.

5. The decision to reduce to a sole lookout had not been effectively risk assessed taking into account the proximity of navigational hazards and operating at night. 

6. The environment of the bridge at the time of the grounding presented a very significant risk of the OOW falling asleep, and he might have done so periodically. 

7. As the primary means of navigation, Priscilla’s ECDIS was not utilized effectively; key safety features, including safety corridors and warning zones that could have provided warning, were not in use.  

8. Priscilla’s BNWAS was switched of despite the OOW being alone on the bridge at night. The safety protection that the BNWAS could provide was not fully appreciated on board and its use should not have been left to the OOW’s discretion. 

9. Priscilla’s SMS did not provide sufficient guidance for the safe conduct of navigation.

MAIB issued RECOMMENDATIONS for Vessel Owner : 

Review and improve the safety management system and standards of watchkeeping on board the vessel, specifically ensuring that: 

● All aspects of the passage plan are compliant with IMO guidance. 

● An internal audit regime is in place to effectively monitor safety management. 

● All methods of fixing the vessel’s position are utilized effectively.

● Hours of rest are recorded accurately for all crew. 

● Crew are prevented from undertaking duties for which they are not qualified. 

● A thorough risk assessment is undertaken prior to making the decision to reduce to a lone watchkeeper.

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