B2/2011M M/V AMAZON (BHS) and F/V FLORENCE (FIN), collision resulting in the sinking of the fishing vessel in the gulf of Finland on 23 October, 2011
Early in the morning on Sunday 23 October, 2011, some time before 05:00, Bahamian-flagged bulk carrier AMAZON and Finnish-flagged fishing vessel FLORENCE collided in dense fog in the Gulf of Finland, in the sea area between the Porkkala peninsula and the Estonian Naissaar island. The cargo vessel was on her way from St. Petersburg to Chittagong, Bangladesh, carrying potassium carbonate, and the fishing vessel had started pair trawling with another fishing vessel, the MENHADEN, some hours earlier. The fishing vessel FLORENCE sank as a result of the collision, but its four-man Estonian crew managed to survive on the vessel’s life raft. The Finnish Border Guard found the life raft in the morning some time after 09:00 and evacuated all of the four-man crew off the raft. No serious physical personal injury resulted from the incident.
The slightly intersecting courses of the pair-trawling fishing vessels and the AMAZON heading to the opposite direction had remained mostly unchanged for an hour before the collision. The masters of the two fishing vessels had both detected the approaching AMAZON on their radars and they predicted that the AMAZON would pass them on the port side. This observation was not discussed between the fishing vessels and it did not lead to any actions. Also the officer on watch on the AMAZON had observed two echoes approaching slowly on the radar. When the echo of the FLORENCE disappeared from the radar, the OOW of the AMAZON assumed two echoes had merged into one. He began to give way by a moderate change of vessel’s course to port when the distance between the vessels was slightly under 0.6 nautical miles.
The master of the FLORENCE saw the navigation light on the bow of the AMAZON just before the collision, when it was no longer possible to avoid the collision. The port side of the AMAZON’s bow hit the port side of the FLORENCE, damaging her side structures. The collision took place within a precautionary area. The FLORENCE sank in approximately ten minutes. AMAZON and MENHADEN continued their voyages; the AMAZON’s OOW stated, that he had felt a light bump to the hull of the vessel and assumed the vessel had hit a fishing buoy or something alike, while the master of the MENHADEN stated never observing the AMAZON by eye due to the dense fog.
There were several factors contributing to the accident. The fishing vessels were trawling in a dense fog and proceeding against the recommended direction of traffic flow in the precautionary area, and towards the oncoming traffic. Both fishing vessels had just one person on the bridge for the early morning watch. The S-VDR audio recording from the AMAZON does not confirm, that a lookout was present on the bridge. The actions on the bridge of the AMAZON did not comply with the standing orders of the shipowner and master given on safe navigation and the manning of the bridge. The masters of the fishing vessels were accustomed to merchant vessels passing them with a close distance, which is why they ignored the approaching vessel and failed to react to the situation.
Both fishing vessels had their fishing lights switched on, but those were not visible in the dense fog. Helsinki Traffic was not notified about starting the fishing or about the fishing vessels’ restricted manoeuvrability. As neither of the fishing vessels was equipped with an AIS transmitter, which, at the time of the incident, were not compulsory, other parties did not know for sure that the two vessels were pair trawling. This decreased the possibilities of Helsinki Traffic, as a monitoring authority, to interfere with the situation by providing advice to the fishing vessels. At no point was there any communication between the vessels. Helsinki Traffic was not in contact with any of the vessels, nor did it warn AMAZON of the risk of collision.
Furthermore, on the AMAZON, too, the situation was allowed to develop into a close-quarter situation. The radar echo of the smaller fishing vessel, the FLORENCE, disappeared from radar due to radar adjustments that were not optimal for the situation. Because of insufficient radar observations, the AMAZON gave way to the port in order to avoid a collision with the MENHADEN at the last moment, but collided with the FLORENCE.
The FLORENCE sank quickly, as her side structures were damaged, her cargo hold hatches were open and she was dragged along with the AMAZON in a listing condition, which allowed water to flow into the vessel. The liferaft and the EPIRB transmitter, both recently renewed, worked reliably and played a significant role in rescuing the crew of the FLORENCE. The emergency and rescue operations by the rescue authorities were effective considering the circumstances and the manner in which alarm was raised.
As a result of the investigation, the Safety Investigation Authority recommends that the Finnish Transport Agency to ensure, by training and instructing the VTS operators, that when the traffic situation within the GOFREP area so requires, the VTS operators to interfere with the course of events by actively sharing information. Moreover, it is recommended that the shipowner of the AMAZON makes sure that all the measures for rectifying the non conformities exposed by the accident are thoroughly inspected and corrective actions are implemented, and that the Bahamas Navigation Administration ensures that these measures are completed.
In addition to the safety recommendations, a safety observation was made, stating that the cooperation and information exchange between fishing-related authorities should be improved to ensure better marine safety in the field. The objective should be, first and foremost, to ensure better safety for professional fishers themselves.