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Health and safety

Containership's bridge deserted for an hour after officer disappears

18 August 2021

A 4,253 TEU containership was left with no one at the controls for around an hour off the coast of China when the chief officer – who had been alone on the bridge at the time – disappeared from the vessel.

The alert was raised at around 0630 hrs as the 39,906 gt Kota Lazim (since renamed Interasia Horizon) was four days into a voyage from Shanghai to Mexico last September, and the bosun arrived on the bridge to take the work orders for the day.

Extensive searches showed no signs of the officer or any evidence that he had fallen overboard or left a note to explain his disappearance. Fellow crew members and shore staff said there had been no signs that the officer – who had joined the ship just five days earlier – had any problems.

Accident investigators said the ship's safety management system (SMS) for bridge watchkeeping was not being implemented at the time, as there was no lookout with the chief officer. The seamen assigned to the watch said the officer had told him to rest instead, as he was needed for deck duties on the following day.

However, the master and other crew were unaware of this instruction and there was no evidence of any work schedule showing deck work on the next day.

Investigators said the voyage data recorder showed no signs of unusual activity heard on the bridge, except for the opening and closing of the doors leading to the bridge wing on a few occasions before 0600 hrs. 'The next significant activity heard was at about 0630 hrs, presumably when the bosun arrived on the bridge', the Singapore flag state investigation report states.

It was discovered that the bridge navigational watch alarm system (BNWAS) had been switched off since the ship left Shanghai, even though its use was required at all times underway and at anchor. The master said this had been an 'oversight' – but the deck logbook showed that all watchkeepers had stated that it was active during their watches.

'This was indicative that the entries were a "paper exercise" to show compliance with the company's SMS and that the intent and purpose of the BNWAS had not been appreciated by the navigating officers,' the report adds.

Investigators said the bosun had stayed on the bridge for about 30 minutes after he couldn't find the officer, but he had then left it unattended – in breach of the SMS – while he went to the ship's officer to look for him.

'An empty bridge should have alerted the bosun, who was an experienced seafarer and held certificates of ratings for supporting navigational watch, of the navigational risk and he could have alerted the master while staying on the bridge (such as using the telephone),' the report adds.

The ship was likely to have been experiencing medium to heavy rolling in force six winds at the time, it points out, but it could not be established with certainty whether the officer had fallen from the bridge wing intentionally or by accident.

Investigators noted that the shipping company had since improved its SMS and BNWAS procedures, as well as amending watch handover checklists and improving its training programmes.