You may captain a cruise ship, a fishing vessel or a cabin cruiser. If you are an experienced sailor, becoming involved in a collision with another ship or small craft may be the furthest thing from your mind, but as we have recently seen, a collision can indeed occur.
In June 2017, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship in the sea off Japan. Seven sailors were killed on the destroyer. The question everyone wants to know is: How could this happen?
A crowded sea
The Navy requires officers and sailors to keep “situational awareness,” that is, be aware at all times of what your own ship is doing as well as those that might be in the space up ahead that you intend to occupy. At the time of the accident, the Fitzgerald was in a channel used by many ships going into and out of the Tokyo Bay harbor. Sailors can become so intent on the traffic around them that they lose focus on their own course.
On the night of the collision, there was reportedly no moon; it was very dark at 2:30 in the morning, providing further opportunity for the ships to collide. However, on a quiet night, in peaceful conditions at sea, it is easy for sailors with little to do to become complacent.
The human element
It is also possible for a crew on watch to misjudge the speed and direction of another ship relative to their own. The technological advancements on the $1.8 billion Fitzgerald were not enough to keep a terrible accident from happening — simply because there was a human crew on board.
Food for thought
There are several theories as to why this collision occurred. As the investigation is still ongoing, the answers are not yet available. Meanwhile, the unlikely crash and resulting fatalities bring up various issues that could arise for any seaman or captain. Regardless of how small your craft, maintaining good situational awareness and being vigilant at all times are essential requirements in keeping your vessel and everyone on board safe from harm. Preventing loss of life or devastating injury must always be at the top of your mind.