The importance of ECDIS training
ACCIDENT investigators have called for an urgent review of proposed international standards for training in the use of electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS) following the grounding of a general cargoship in the North Sea last year. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that none of the deck officers onboard the Dutch-flagged CFL Performer had been trained in the use of ECIDS — even though it was the primary means of navigation onboard the paper chart-free ship.
It said the officers were consequently ignorant of many of the system requirements and features and were operating it ‘in a very basic and inherently dangerous manner’. A report on the incident expresses concern about the ‘disturbing’ and increasing number of similar accidents involving the misuse of electronic chart systems, poor training and the use of inappropriate settings.
The 4,106gt vessel grounded on Haisborough Sand, off the coast of Norfolk, where the charted depth was less than 2m — compared with the vessel’s draft of 5.9m. Investigations revealed that the chief officer had used the system to amend a passage plan for the vessel — which was sailing from Suriname to Grimsby with a cargo of bauxite — to enable it arrive an hour earlier than the original ETA so as not to miss high tide and delay berthing. The report says the new voyage plan had taken about five minutes to complete. ‘It is clear that this route was not adequately checked for navigational hazards either when planned or when being monitored,’ it states.
Investigators found that neither the Ukrainian chief officer nor the Filipino second officer had been trained in the operation of ECDIS, although they had used systems on other ships. The Ukrainian master had no previous experience or training in ECDIS or any other form of electronic navigation system. ‘None of the officers were aware of the significance of the safety contour, the safety depth, and the shallow deep contours, and did not know how to establish a watch vector ahead of the vessel, or its significance,’ the report adds. ‘They also did not know how to use the “check page” to ensure that all course lines and associated channel limits were clear of navigational dangers.’
The report warns that ECDIS will soon replace paper charts as the primary means of navigation on most vessels and it notes the ‘compelling’ case for mandatory training requirements. ‘Reliance on the requirements of flag states, knowledge of paper charts, on-the-job training, and self-tuition are not realistic or sensible options for such a vital piece of navigational equipment,’ it adds. And, given the marked differences between different systems, it argues that officers require equipment-specific training. The MAIB also warned that the case shows the danger of watchkeepers placing unquestioning trust in ECDIS displays and failing to monitor the vessel’s position in relation to navigational hazards. The voyage plan being used atthe time of the grounding had been deleted from the system, and the VDR records had not been saved.
The report comments: ‘To enable lessons to be learned from accidents, hazardous incidents and other operational situations, it is important that clear guidance for the reporting of such occurrences and the preservation of evidence — including electronic data from VDRs, ECDIS and other systems, is provided to ships’ crews.’ The report recommends the Maritime & Coastguard Agency to support the ‘expeditious’ adoption of IMO proposals to include ECDIS competences within the STCW Code. It also warns of the need for an urgent review of the IMO model course syllabus for ECDIS training — which was developed eight years ago — to ensure that it is still ‘fit for purpose’. Successful completion of the course should be determined by examination and practical assessment, it added. The report also urges shipowners to ensure that all bridge OOWs are familiar with the navigational systems used on their ships, and to encourage the use of both generic and equipment-specific training in ECDIS.