The UK has reminded shipowners of the legal requirement to have two people on the bridge at night, following a fatal collision off Sweden in 2021.

A report by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that the watchkeeper of the 4,800-dwt UK-flagged general cargo ship Scot Carrier (built 2018) was alone on the bridge and distracted by a tablet computer before the clash with the 500-dwt Danish split hopper barge Karin Hoj (built 1997) in the Baltic Sea.

Both seafarers from the Danish ship died as it capsized in the early hours of 13 December.

The report said the Scot Carrier’s watchkeeper changed course without determining that it was safe to do so.

And neither watchkeeper on the two vessels reacted to the developing situation, or took action in time to prevent a collision.

No lookouts were posted on either ship, MAIB said.

The Scot Carrier’s watchkeeper may also have been influenced by alcohol.

MAIB has asked the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to remind owners that the posting of a lookout in addition to a bridge watchkeeper during the hours of darkness and restricted visibility is an absolute requirement in UK waters and on UK ships.

Andrew Moll, the UK’s chief inspector of marine accidents, 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.”

Chatting with strangers

The report found that at 0148 hours local time, the ship’s second officer “used his tablet computer to engage with a stranger on a video chat site”.

At 0202, he altered course while at the same time continuing with his online chat.

Shortly afterwards, he switched on the searchlight to show the chat user the ship’s deck and cargo on the forward hatches. He then continued to engage with several different individuals on the chat site.

By 0322 hours, the second officer had connected with a different chat user and conversed with them while altering course.

At 0326, while still in conversation, the seafarer observed a light close to the Scot Carrier, off the starboard bow. He exclaimed “Wait, wait, wait!”, pulled back the main engine propeller pitch control lever, switched on a second steering motor and disengaged the autopilot.

A minute later, the ship collided with the port side of the Karin Hoj.

Alarm not raised

The report found that the second officer did not immediately call the master or raise the alarm, but returned the ship to its original course and speed.

Danish and Swedish coastguards were alerted to the incident following the activation of the Karin Hoj’s emergency beacon.

The Scot Carrier’s manager, Intrada Ships Management, has been recommended to review the results of its navigational audits to determine additional training and instruction needs.

The owner of the Karin Hoj has been recommended to actively monitor its crewing levels so that they are adequately manned at all times.

In June 2022, the UK officer from the Scot Carrier was jailed for 18 months in Denmark.

The 30-year-old seafarer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after admitting to drinking on the bridge.

The second officer was also banned from entering Denmark for 12 years and his licence to operate vessels in Danish waters was revoked.