Not Keeping a Proper Lookout & Other Causes of Maritime Collisions

According to Rule 5 of the Amalgamated International & U.S. Inland Navigation Rules, “Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.”

Keeping a proper lookout is one of the most basic rules of navigation, and one of the most important. When there is no lookout, equipment malfunctions, or the seaman given this responsibility is careless or distracted, a collision may occur. This happened recently at Australia’s Port Adelaide early in the morning of February 29, 2020, when a 108-meter-long bulk carrier and a fishing vessel collided. Thankfully, no one was injured in the collision, although the smaller fishing vessel sustained considerable damage. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s investigation determined that the cause of the collision was a failure to keep a proper lookout.

Keeping a Proper Lookout: Best Practices

A seaman should be posted as lookout at the front of the vessel unless adverse weather or sea conditions make this impossible. This lookout should use all means available and appropriate to monitor current conditions and other vessels, including radar. Radar is not infallible, however, and can malfunction in highly congested areas or due to severe weather. Vessel operators should be vigilant in keeping a lookout at all times.

A lookout should:

  • Report any lights or vessels they see
  • Report any fog signals or other sounds they hear
  • Use discretion in congested areas by reporting only what is necessary
  • Make a full appraisal of the situation based on current weather and sea conditions

A proper lookout should cover 360 degrees, not only the front of the ship, as other vessels can come from behind. This is particularly true of slow-moving ships. Never assume that another vessel or radar can see your vessel as well.

Other Potential Causes of Maritime Collisions

There are other causes of maritime collisions that can combine with a failure to keep a proper lookout, such as heavy weather or human error. Even equipment failure can be linked to a failure to keep a proper lookout. Here we will consider some of the other leading causes of collisions at sea and on inland waters.

Some other leading causes of maritime collisions include:

  • Human Error: In addition to carelessness, lack of experience, or distraction, human errors related to differences in maritime traffic rules across various regions can cause serious collisions that lead to lost cargo and injured or lost seamen. According to a study of 100 years of maritime accidents (from 1912 to 2012) by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, Safety & Shipping, it was estimated that human error played a role 75% to 95% of the time.
  • Weather: Adverse weather is the second most common contributor to maritime collisions and other accidents at sea. In addition to obstructing vision, high winds and rough seas can cause vessels to collide with one another, with fixed objects, or to run aground. In many of these cases, it can be seen that negligence also played a role, as ship owners or operators made the decision to sail into heavy weather in the first place. A recent example involved the near loss of Noble Energy’s Globetrotter II in Hurricane Ida on August 28, 2021. The crew was rescued, but not before suffering severe physical and psychological trauma.
  • Equipment Failure: Engine failure, radar malfunctions, and other issues with equipment may cause a collision that puts everyone on the vessel at risk. Maritime ship owners have an obligation to maintain seaworthy vessels. If they do not, they can be held liable for any resulting injuries or deaths.

Fighting for Survivors & Victims’ Families After the Worst Maritime Collisions

Arnold & Itkin represents seamenoffshore workers, and families across the U.S. who have been injured or lost loved ones in maritime collisions. Our maritime lawyers are known nationwide for securing results and finding answers after the worst offshore disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the loss of the El Faro. We are currently representing the families of three men who tragically lost their lives in a barge collision on the Mississippi River just west of New Orleans. The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) report found that the vessels’ Automatic Identification Systems (AISs) were transmitting incorrect information regarding the length of the tugboats and the number of barges they were towing. The result? A massive collision that claimed three crew members’ lives.

When maritime collisions happen, there is always a reason. Finding the cause is a crucial part of getting answers for families and seamen whose lives have been torn apart because it sheds light on who is liable. It opens the door to the recovery of compensation that can help survivors and victims’ families rebuild and move on.

To learn more, call (888) 346-5024. Your consultation is free and private!

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