BNWAS Switched Off – Grounding Probe Blasts Lack of Safety Compliance

A UK accident investigation by the Maritime Accident Investigations Branch (Maib) into the grounding of the containership Karin Schepers has revealed a series of failures by the ship’s officers to implement recent industry safety measures and the safety-management policy of its operator.

Ship’s Master Was Asleep and Intoxicated

It was found that the ship’s master was asleep and intoxicated at the time the 803-teu vessel grounded on the UK’s Cornish coast on 3rd August 2011. The sound of music and his snoring could be heard on the bridge.

The master had relieved the second officer of the watch but fell asleep a short time later. No lookout was posted, and with no-one awake on the bridge the vessel continued on for over 2 hours before running aground.

Previous Grounding

This wasn’t the first time that the vessel had been involved in a similar incident as it had grounded in Danish waters in March 2009 when the chief officer was intoxicated and fell asleep on the watch. The vessel’s operator at the time, HS Schiffahrts, introduced a zero-alcohol policy but as implementation of this onboard the vessel would have been entrusted with the master, in this case it would not have been effective.

BNWAS Switched Off

In both incidents the Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System (BNWAS) – intended to monitor motion on the bridge and prevent the watch from falling asleep – had been switched off.

BNWAS became mandatory under SOLAS Chapter V Regulation 19, adopted by the IMO in June 2009.

Afterwards, the master was asked by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to back up the voyage data recorder (VDR). He was also asked a second time by the vessel’s owner to do the same thing. However, the information was not saved, although the Maib was able to recover data from the VDR.

The Maib describes the safety-management system on the Karin Schepers as “ineffective”. Audits of the vessel’s safety management system, by the owner, had failed to detect that important safety requirements were being ignored.

Reduce the Risk of Crew Tampering with BNWAS

Whereas most BNWAS systems use a key switch for turning the system on and off the Navgard™ BNWAS from Martek Marine requires a master password to switch it off. This means that, provided the password is kept confidential by senior crew, it is not possible for any crew member to turn the system off whenever they want.

Although this would not have prevented an incident like the Karin Schepers grounding if it was the master who turns off the BNWAS, it would at least be able to highlight the system being turned off in safety audits by the owner thanks to logging system events onto an integral SD card.

By checking during safety audits that the system has been in continuous operation owners can ensure that this important safety measure is being followed.

Navgard™ is the World’s No.1 BNWAS and is approved by all major classification societies.