MAIB report cites distraction of OOW as cause of Priscilla grounding

Paul Gunton

Paul Gunton · 04 October 2019


A MAIB report into the grounding of the general cargo ship Priscilla off Scotland in July last year has highlighted that the OOW was distracted and watching music videos prior to the incident. The vessel was aground for seven days and was refloated after lightening.

When approaching Pentland Firth, Priscilla was set to the south of its planned track but this was not observed because the officer of the watch did not monitor the vessel’s progress for about two hours; instead, he sat in the bridge chair and watched videos on his mobile phone using the vessel’s wi-fi internet connection. It is also possible that the officer of the watch fell asleep periodically.

Image courtesy of the RNLI

When the officer of the watch realised that Priscilla was off track, there was ample time to regain the planned route. Instead, the officer of the watch chose an alternative route that placed the vessel in imminent danger; this happened because he relied solely on radar data and did not refer to navigational information when making this critical decision. There were no navigational alarms to warn of danger and, although the accident happened at night, no additional lookout had been posted. The bridge navigational watch alarm system was also switched off.

Priscilla’s officer of the watch responded to two verbal warnings from shore authorities of the danger ahead. However, the action taken in response to the warnings was not effective and indicated that the officer of the watch did not have sufficient awareness to understand the situation and turn away from danger.

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The report mentioned that the OOW was a 23-year-old Dutch national who held a combined deck and engineering qualification with certification issued in February 2018. He typically spent 2 hours a day in the engine room in addition to bridge watchkeeping and expressed a preference for engineering duties. He had also been experiencing some feelings of anxiety and restlessness caused by the illness of a family member.

It was also mentioned in the report that some non-conformities on navigation had been raised during SMS audits. The SMS contained no guidance on the use of mobile phones on the bridge. Priscilla’s crew used their mobile phones for personal and business use on the bridge without restriction. The SMS also stated that alcohol was not to be consumed in the four hours prior to a duty period. There was no alcohol testing equipment on board and none of the crew were tested for alcohol consumption after the accident. The report said that some alcohol had been consumed by the OOW to celebrate his birthday, but this was just outside the four hour period.

Since the grounding, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has taken steps to improve the standards of vessel traffic monitoring in Pentland Firth. Additionally, Priscilla’s owner has updated onboard procedures; nevertheless, a safety recommendation has been made to the owner to take further steps intended to improve standards of watchkeeping.

The actions taken by the owner include amending the company’s SMS which now requires:

  • the BNWAS to be on from pilot station to pilot station;
  • ECDIS limits for safety depth, safety contour and warning sector are to be included in the voyage plan;
  • the master’s order book to be used, including checking the readiness of the relieving OOW;
  • OOWs are not to be permitted to use mobile phones, and;
  • the posting of dedicated lookouts.
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