Seamen Seduced By a Snazzy Computer Even When They Should Know Better


For the second time, the British Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), which is a part of the UK Department for Transport, has issued a Safety Flyer warning "about the misuse of computerised navigation systems by ships' officers with insufficient training," the website reports.

The flyer which is meant for circulation to ferry and other ship operators states in part that they need to review their training requirements/provision with respect to the use of electronic chart display information systems (ECDIS) systems, especially where a system that is not approved as the primary means of navigation is provided and sited prominently on the bridge.

As apparently happened in two recent maritime accidents (one involving the cross-Channel Roll on Roll off passenger ferry Pride of Canterbury hitting a submerged wreck in January 2008, and another involving the grounding of the cargo ship CFL Performer in May 2008), the ships' officers relied on electronic navigation systems that they were untrained on and didn't know the limitations of.

In the case of the Pride of Canterbury, the ferry company's regulation were that paper charts were the primary means of navigation, and the ECDIS was only supposed to be an aid to navigation.

However, the MAIB accident report states,"Although the VMS (Voyage Management System) was not approved for use as the primary means of navigation, the officers on Pride of Canterbury were using it as if it was, despite the fact that many of them, including the chief officer, who was in charge at the time of the accident, were not fully trained in its use."

Furthermore, "the distribution of monitors on the bridge encouraged the OOW (Officer of the Watch) to utilise the VMS to such an extent that it had become the 'de facto' primary means of navigation. As a consequence, only limited use was made of the paper charts held on board."

The MAIB could not determine if the wreck the Pride of Canterbury had been displayed on the VMS, but the symbol not understood by the OOW, or that the VMS setting were set so that the wreck never appeared on the electronic chart.

Regardless, the MAIB reports says that, "The wreck was clearly displayed on chart BA 1828, but because the bridge team were not systematically fixing the vesselâ''s position on the chart, it did not assist them in detecting the obstruction."

Another case of being seduced by the computer.


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City