All at sea on ships with mod cons, but somehow two captains came to a rocky end

The captain should look where he's going next time - if he gets another chance.

Dunno if there is a special school where seamen are trained in the ignominious art of losing their way while captaining big ships and bringing their maritime careers to an abrupt end.

But Alf is bemused by events the led to Rena and Concordia running on to rocks in different parts of the world.

Interest in this country is strongly focused on the container ship Rena which ran on to the Astrolabe Reef, in the Bay of Plenty, at 2.14am on 5 October 2011.

This focus is largely explained by the huge environmental mischief caused by that event.

Today, Alf has been studying the interim report from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission on its independent inquiry into the grounding.

He was alerted to the report by a media statement arriving in his in-tray.

The report sets out facts of the accident that have been able to be verified to date but does not contain analysis of why events happened as they did or say what could change to help prevent a recurrence. These matters will be covered in the Commission’s final inquiry report.

So what do we know?

Today’s report describes how the Rena left Napier and deviated from its intended course as it headed to a 3am meeting with the Tauranga pilot boat.

It details how the ship was navigated, including the use of its autopilot, GPS positions, and charts.

All mod cons, eh?

But in the upshot, he might just as well have been steering by the stars.

At 1.50am, the report says, the Rena was on a direct track for Astrolabe Reef.

“At about 0205 (2.05am) the master noticed an intermittent echo on the radar. The echo was about 2.6 nautical miles (4.8 kilometres) dead ahead of the Rena. The master showed the echo on the radar to the watch-keeping able-bodied seaman and they used binoculars to look through the windows of the bridge for the cause of the echo. They could not see anything, so they moved to the bridge wing to look from there. When again nothing could be seen, the master said he decided to plot the Rena’s position on the chart, so began to walk through the wheelhouse to the chartroom,” the report says.

“At the time of 0214 (2.14am) as the master made his way to the chartroom the Rena struck Astrolabe Reef while traveling at a speed of 17 knots (31.5 kilometres per hour).”

Oh, bugger.

The commission’s inquiry is independent of Maritime New Zealand’s regulatory action, environmental enforcement action, or financial claims relating to the grounding. I

The job isn’t finished.

The report concludes –

The commission is continuing to collate and verify information directly related to the grounding and is also pursuing several lines of inquiry of a wider systemic nature.

Alf suggests they ask the captain if he needs glasses and, if so, was he wearing them.

He makes this suggestion because of the several damning disclosures about the captain of the Costa Concordia.

Among them –

Francesco Schettino, who is under house arrest after steering the ship into rocks on the island of Giglio in January, was not wearing his glasses that night, the ship’s first officer has told investigators.

“He had forgotten them in his cabin,” said Ciro Ambrosio. “He asked me a number of times to adjust the scale of the radar because he couldn’t see it well.”

With the advantage of hindsight, you can bet he wished he had not left them in his cabin.

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