A crewman on watch was distracted by a video call on a tablet computer in the run-up to a fatal collision with another vessel, an investigation has found.
The UK-registered cargo ship Scot Carrier and Denmark-registered barge Karin Hoj collided off the coast of Sweden in the early hours of December 13, 2021.
As a result, the 55-metre Karin Hoj capsized with the loss of two lives.
A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report found the vessels collided after the second officer (2/O) on the Scot Carrier altered course at a planned waypoint without checking the traffic in the area or that it was safe to execute the manoeuvre.
It found the second officer was “distracted throughout his watch by the continual use of a tablet computer”, and that he had consumed alcohol before taking over the watch.
He used the tablet to watch a video and also to chat to random individuals on a video chat site. He was chatting with one while altering course and just before the collision at around 3.27am.
In June last year, the Courts of Denmark convicted Scot Carrier’s second officer of manslaughter and maritime drunkenness and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, the MAIB said.
The MAIB report stated: “There was no effective lookout during the watch leading up to the collision as the 2/O was continuously distracted by his tablet computer and his focus on it would have used much of his cognitive function.
“The brightness and proximity of the device while viewing the video chat site would also have affected the 2/O’s night vision.”
Following the collision, Scot Carrier’s second officer did not immediately call the master or raise the alarm, but returned the ship to its original course and speed.
Swedish coastguards were alerted to the incident following the activation of Karin Hoj’s emergency beacon and they determined the two ships might have collided.
A search and rescue operation was launched but it was not until 1.40pm that Swedish rescue divers were able to enter Karin Hoj’s submerged accommodation, where they found the vessel’s master who was declared dead.
The body of the other crewman has never been found and he is presumed dead.
The 90-metre Scot Carrier was loaded with timber with eight crew on board and was sailing from Latvia to Montrose in Angus when the collision happened.
The MAIB investigation found neither vessel had posted a lookout during the hours of darkness, and it said the incident could have been avoided had an able seaman been assigned to lookout duties.
The report said following the accident, both ship operators have taken action to prevent a recurrence.
It has issued recommendations to the managers of Scot Carrier to expand its third-party navigation audits across the fleet, and to the owners of Karin Hoj to introduce stricter manning oversight on board its vessels.
It has also advised the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to clarify the requirement for a dedicated lookout during the hours of darkness for both UK-registered ships and ships in UK waters.
Andrew Moll, chief inspector of marine accidents at the MAIB, said: “The collision between Scot Carrier and Karin Hoj resulted in the tragic deaths of two seafarers.
“International requirements are clear that posting an additional person on the bridge as a dedicated lookout is vital to safe navigation. However, this investigation is one of many that have found that the watchkeepers were alone on the bridge at night.
“This report also highlights the dangers of distraction from watchkeeping duties. While shipping companies may have procedures to address distraction, seafarers are also responsible for acting professionally; watchkeeping is a safety-critical task.
“Shipping companies should empower their crews to make the right decisions, highlighting the impact that distraction has on task performance, and have effective methods of ensuring that an additional lookout is posted at night and in poor visibility.”
A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesperson said: “The MCA already has regulations and guidance notes in place to emphasise the requirement of lookout in hours of darkness and restricted visibility.
“The MCA emphasised the importance of a lookout in multiple notices and provided references to the MAIB to demonstrate it.”