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Damage survey and countermeasures after a collision accident by ships- How to prevent further damage?

When a ship gets collide with another ship or makes contact damage to a terminal structure, the ultimate cost of damage repair plus loss of cargo and environmental damage due to oil spillage can run into millions of dollars. Loss of lives and, or crew injury adds more financial burden onto a shipowner. Unfortunately, collision accidents at sea occur not only in a dense traffic-congested area or due to restricted visibility and, or machinery/equipment failure, and similar incidents, but a significant amount of incidents happening at open sea with clear visibility. Recent P&I club report published on some major casualties suggest that substandard bridge procedure, human error and lack of situational awareness were the root cause in many collision incidences.

containerships operational matters
Oil Tanker Safety Guide
Most common underlying causes being reported as follows:
  1. Insufficient watch-keeping.
  2. Lack of situational awareness.
  3. Failure to set priorities - lack of positive action.
  4. Preoccupation with administrative tasks.
  5. Failure to communicate intentions (officer/master/pilot).
  6. Lack of assertiveness - failure to challenge incorrect decisions (officer/master/pilot).
  7. Failure to comply with standard procedures and international regulations.
  8. Failure to utilise available data and resources.
  9. Lack of training - 'human-technology' interface.
How to handle collision incidence and safeguard owners' interests?
Collision is a big issue. A prudent shipmaster should apply his best judgment and careful consideration to minimize damages and financial loss to the shipowner. After a collision immediately draws the attention of other ships that are in adjacent waters by turning on deck lights, putting up the lights or shaped objects to show not under command, using VHF, and other possible means.

ship structural damage
Damaged hull

Prevention of further damage

To minimize the impact of damage, consider to Go Astern as early as possible. It is to limit the damage and to avoid further contact. However, if the bow of the vessel has penetrated the side shell of the other vessel, reverse the engine only after an initial damage assessment, as one of the vessels may suddenly lose her buoyancy and sink, or cause/increase oil pollution.

Damage survey and measures against flooding

Survey the degree of damages of the hull by sounding all compartments likely to be affected by the collision. Limit any flooding by using available means onboard.
  1. If the leakage is small, wooden plugs, blankets, tarpaulin, cement boxes or the like can be used to reduce the flooding rate.
  2. An increase in the draft due to flooding can cause flooding through openings that are usually above waterlines, to which serious attention must be given.
  3. If high rate flooding is likely to cause the vessel to sink, an intentional stranding should be considered.
  4. If leakage occurs in the forepeak tank, proceed with reduced speed so that excessive pressure on the collision bulkhead is kept to a minimum, and move the vessel to safer waters. Ballast aft tanks if possible to regain freeboard forward.

Salvage contract and evacuation

Follow the Company's instructions to conclude a salvage contract, for which communication must be established between the Company and the vessel as soon as possible after the accident. When there is imminent danger, and absolutely no time to wait for the Company's decision, the Master may request salvage using his professional judgment. In this case, the Master must confirm that the contract is based on the Lloyds Open Form (LOF) even at the worst case, and Avoid having salvers start the operation without confirming the conditions of the contract. If danger is imminent to human lives on board the vessel, every effort should be made to evacuate everyone from the vessel. The Master should request the salvage by all available means before the evacuation to show that the vessel side has no intention to abandon the hull and cargo.

Life saving and rescue of other ship
  1. If there is no urgent danger to own vessel, stay near the other ship to take all necessary measures to save human lives and assist in the possible rescue attempt of the other vessel.
  2. If the other vessel has sunk or is likely to sink, do the very best to save human lives immediately by lowering lifeboats or other possible means.
  3. If it is unavoidable to discontinue the search, although there are still persons reported lost from the other ship, obtain the consent of the other ship or the Rescue Coordination Centre. Enter the fact in the deck log book.
  4. Handling an accident resulting in injury or death of the vessel's crew should be dealt with mentioned in the Emergency Procedures for Human Casualty

Handling oil spills

In cases of an oil spill or threat of such a spill, should be dealt with utmost importance ,reference is to be made from SOPEP


If the accident is likely to cause obstruction to marine traffic, the Master should report the matter to the nearest office of the Maritime Safety Agency , or the nearest Coast Guard.

Reserving damage claim right

An admiralty court or arbitrator decides the liability of parties involved based on a marine accident investigation report. An error in navigation, negligence, or failure to comply with Colregs would be scrutinized in an accident report. Regardless of the causes of the accident, be sure to submit a claim letter to the other ship and request the Master of the other ship to sign the letter. The claim letter should be sent swiftly via ship agent or by any available route, including electronic means. If the other ship sends the claim letter to the vessel, never insert or accept a wording that may be interpreted as an admission of liability. If it is unavoidable to sign the claim letter from the other ship, sign the document affixing the following remark, " I received your claim notice without prejudice, or This is not an admission of liability" or similar wording.

Investigation and recording the facts

The Master shall investigate the event by interviewing all persons concerned and try to establish all facts leading up to the event. The Master should convene a meeting to collect all types of information from crew members to grasp the fact of the collision which should be consistent with the evidential records/documents on board. The following documentation/records shall be secured:
  1. Time records of course recorder.
  2. Time records of telegraph logger.
  3. Position records.
  4. Engine revolution records.
  5. Voyage Data Recorder
  6. ECDIS data
  7. Other documentary evidence.
The Master should make records after investigation of the above and prepare extracts of the respective log books.

Evidence and data

The Master should try to obtain the signed statement or testimony about the accident from third parties, such as pilot and other persons who were on board or near the vessel when the accident occurred if possible, and the Master deems it advantageous to the Company. Prepare copies of the related charts, deck logbook, course recorder, bell book, etc., taking advantage of the opportunity, since the competent authorities often demand the submission of the originals of such documents

Dealing with visitors

Various persons concerned, such as the officer of competent authorities, surveyors, lawyers, and underwriters, visit the vessel to probe conditions of the collision. In such cases, the Master should give the gangway strict instructions not to permit access to anybody until he authorizes him explicitly. The Master should not admit any person except competent authorities or persons permitted by the Company. If there is doubt a visitor's authorization to board the vessel, the Company should be contacted before access is granted. When any crew member is questioned about the accident by competent authorities in a port outside Japan, The Master should request a lawyer representing the Company and an interpreter if possible. The Company will arrange such representatives. To allow the required time for the necessary arrangements, the Master must inform the management company as early as possible after it is known that such an inquiry will be made. For an accident related to P&I matters, a local P&I representative should be arranged.

The Master should not permit interviews by a lawyer or surveyor nominated by the opposing vessel without permission of the Company. When such lawyers and surveyors visit the vessel directly, decline interviews with them, saying that everything is left to the lawyer, who is nominated by the vessel and insists on direct discussion with company solicitor.

When instructions for an interview are given from the Company, due care should be taken not to give statements that may be unfavorable to the vessel or the Company. Such interviews should be limited to the Master and Officer of the Watch only. Especially, logbook and records should by no means be shown to a lawyer or surveyor nominated by the opposing vessel.

Cautions in preparation of documents

1) The following attention should be taken for entry into the Deck Log Book: 2) The following attention should be given for entry into the Sea Protest:

Navigation after a collision

For a collision during a voyage, the Company will decide how to handle the matter depending on the extent of the damage, including :
  1. Temporary repairs by the crew or, if required, with assistance from external Sources.
  2. Requirements for inspection by Class.
  3. Proceeding to the nearest port for repairs (Self-navigation),
  4. Navigation to the port of destination (Self-navigation), or
  5. Arrangement of salvage (Towing).
The Master should survey the extent of damage conditions as detailed as possible to judge whether there are any obstructions to continued navigation, and report immediately to the Company. The vessel should follow instructions given by local authorities. < If SOLAS-related equipment (Life-saving equipment, such as Lifeboats in particular) is damaged, inform the Company immediately. The vessel should not leave a port until the damaged equipment is repaired by an authorized person or replaced.

Arrangement of survey
  1. The management company need to arrange surveys [Class survey, Damage survey, Joint (WP) survey with the opponent party, and P&I representatives] as required after consultation with the Insurance company.
  2. Where the vessel is in a foreign port, the management Company should arrange necessary surveys, divers and others through local representatives or agent.
  3. In case of an independent accident on the high seas, for example, a collision with a floating object causing deformation of shell plating or similar damages, the Master must survey the hull as carefully as possible and report to the Company as soon as possible. The Company will discuss the situation with the Classification Society in question and discuss the further handling of the situation. A class surveyor most probably would visit the vessel at the next port of call to assess the extent of the damage. He may impose a condition of class with time limits for immediate damage repair. If satisfied with a present situation, he may allow the ship to continue sailing with temporary repair with a condition to repair permanent at next scheduled drydock.
  4. In case of an accident involving liability problems between the opposing parties, for example, a collision accident with another ship, the degree, and extent of damage of each ship must be confirmed, which generally requires surveys by fair and neutral organizations.

Securing seaworthiness

As a general rule, the seaworthiness is lost by damage opening the hull, dented or buckled inner strength members, or a dent on the hull 50 mm or more in-depth. Therefore, a Seaworthiness Certificate is essential to obtain from a classification society surveyor when the vessel enters a port after a collision. It must be done before departure from port.

After a damage survey, if the Certificate is furnished on condition that: "The damage to be repaired upon arrival at XXXX" - try to have the surveyor revise the expression on the Certificate to "The damage to be re-surveyed upon arrival in XXXX (or in a port on the way to XXXX)" and recommendations for necessary repairs. Since the first port in the next voyage schedule may not have sufficient capacity for the required repairs, in all such cases, the shipmaster should seek guidance from the Company's technical superintendent.

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Collision accident handling checklist for ships

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How to prevent oil pollution after colliding with another vessel

Fighting fire and countermeasures after a collision incident

Stranding handling checklist after colliding with another vessel

Guideline for salvage operation after a collision accident

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