Rena crew undone by dash to port


The Rena could have been steered away from rocks in time to prevent disaster after a radar echo was detected, TAIC spokesperson hints

Rena crew undone by dash to port
Rena crew undone by dash to port

By Anna Game-Lopata | March 9, 2012

A New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) spokesperson has hinted to SCR it could have been possible for
The Rena
to avoid disaster even after an echo on the radar had been detected just before the crash.

About nine minutes before the fateful collision
on the rocks
of Astrolabe Reef last October 5, the master noticed an intermittent echo on the radar screen.

When he and the watchkeeper couldn’t see anything untoward using binoculars
through
the window and from the bridge itself, the master decided to plot The Rena’s position on the chart.

It was at that moment the 47,230-tonne Liberian-flagged containership struck the reef at a speed of 17 knots.

While the TAIC spokesperson concedes radar echoes can be deceptive, he says it's possible the organisation will find the
accident could have been averted.

He was speaking following the release of a preliminary TAIC report, which
shows the rush to make it to New Zealand's North Island Tauranga Harbour from Singapre caused last year’s grounding.

Hundreds of containers were washed overboard in the accident and the hull has since broken in two. Heavy fuel oil poured from the wrecked vessel, fouling pristine beaches and killing thousands of seabirds.

The
spokesperson for TAIC, who questioned the vessel's cew tells SCR the preliminary report is not intended to apportion blame, but to ascertain what happened in order to prevent such accidents happening again.

The report reveals port officials at the North Island port of Tauranga warned the crew in advance they needed to make "best speed" as their estimated 0300 time of arrival was the "end of the time window for pilotage".

"Because of the extremely narrow entrance of the tidal basin, there are strict limits and cut-off times for ships entering the port," the TAIC spokesperson says.

According to yesterday’s report, the Rena made several deviations from its planned course in the attempt to meet this deadline.

"Missing the required window for rendezvous with a pilot boat off the port would have meant a four hour wait before the next one," the spokesperson says.

While analysis of the crew's actions must wait for TAIC’s final report once all the facts have been properly documented, the initial findings show the Filipino crew were clearly concerned about the possible delay.

A new course was plotted, with the aim of taking the ship within about one nautical mile of the well-charted reef, instead of the recommended three miles.

"The second mate's plan was to navigate closer to the Astrolabe Reef," the report says.

He told investigators he made a mark on the chart, about one nautical mile north of Astrolabe Reef to which he intended to navigate before making the final course adjustment to the pilot station.

But the master, who last week pleaded guilty to altering the ship's original passage plan, GPS log book and other documents, says otherwise, claiming the mark made on the chart was "put there after the grounding".

While contradicting statements from the master and the second mate will be the subject of further investigation, events detailed in the preliminary report
suggest the vessel was already off course as a result of
inconsistent plotting.

"The vessel's GPS navigational equipment was in perfect working order," the TAIC spokesperson says.

"But the vessel's position, though plotted at 0120 and 0140, failed to be recorded at 0200, just fifteen minutes before the crash."

In addition, its plotted positions appear on two different charts which were not cross-referenced, and there was a two-degree difference between the positions they showed.

TAIC's final report is due out next early year.

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