Bulk carrier Silver Yang took avoiding action

The 16-year-old Australian skipper, Jessica Watson, failied to spot the
bulk carrier Silver Yang on her instruments, according to a preliminary
report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

collision in September delayed the start of Watson’s attempt to become
the youngest skipper to sail solo around the world, however, she has
now departed aboard Ella’s Pink Lady, her Sparkman and Stephens (S&S) 34.

The incident
0151½ on 9 September 2009, in a position about 15 miles east of Point
Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, the Australian
registered, single-handed yacht Ella’s Pink Lady collided with the Hong
Kong registered bulk carrier Silver Yang.

At the time of the
collision, Silver Yang was en-route to China and travelling at a speed
of about 9 knots on a northerly heading. Ella’s Pink Lady was under
sail on a voyage from Mooloolaba, Queensland, to Sydney, New South
Wales. The yacht was making good a course of 144°(T) and a speed of
about 7 knots.

Ella’s Pink Lady was dismasted as a result of the
collision, but the skipper was able to cut the headsail free, retrieve
the damaged rigging on board and motor the damaged yacht to Southport,

The report in full
At about 1000
on 8 September, Ella’s Pink Lady departed from Mooloolaba, Queensland.
The skipper was intending to clear the coastline as soon as possible
and then set a course for Sydney, via Lord Howe Island. However, the
wind was only light, so the skipper was unable to clear the coast as
early as she had planned.

During the afternoon, the wind
‘glassed right out’ so the skipper started the engine and motored
Ella’s Pink Lady for several hours. By sunset, the yacht was off Cape
Moreton. The wind had freshened from the west and the yacht was again
under sail.

At about 0146, Ella’s Pink Lady’s skipper prepared
for another catnap. The yacht was making good a course of 144°(T) at a
speed of 7 knots. The skipper checked the radar and noted that there
was a vessel about 6 miles off her starboard quarter1. She could not
see it visually, but she monitored its progress on the radar for about
1 minute. Once she had determined that it did not present a collision
risk, she set the radar guard-rings, set her alarm clocks and then went
to bed again.

However, she had not detected Silver Yang, which was now about 1 mile to the south-south-east of her position

about 0125, Silver Yang’s bridge watch keeper reported observing one
green light to port, on a bearing of 345°(T) at a range of about 4
miles. He continued to monitor it and at 0148½, he altered the ship’s
heading by 10° to starboard, in an attempt to avoid Ella’s Pink Lady.
He continued to monitor the closing situation and at 0150, applied
hard-to-starboard rudder in an attempt to avoid collision.

0150½, Ella’s Pink Lady’s bow collided with Silver Yang’s port side mid
section. The ship had come around to a heading of 024°(T), so the
collision was almost square on (See illustration). The impact pushed
the yacht’s bow to port and its starboard side scraped along part of
the port side of the ship.

The collision woke Ella’s Pink Lady’s
skipper. She climbed out of the cabin, grabbed the tiller and tried to
steer the yacht. She looked upwards and thought that is was likely that
the yacht’s rigging would become entangled with the ship and dismast
her vessel, so she returned to the cabin. A few seconds later, the mast
came crashing down.

Immediately, following the collision, Silver Yang’s watch keeper reportedly stopped the ship’s main engine.

Ella’s Pink Lady had cleared the ship’s stern, the skipper assessed the
damage to her yacht. She found no ingress of water and, although the
yacht had been dismasted, the vessel appeared to be seaworthy.

Pink Lady’s skipper called Silver Yang on VHF channel 16. At first,
when she did not broadcast the ship’s name, she received no reply.

checked the yacht’s AIS unit to determine the ship’s name, and then
called again, broadcasting using its name ‘Silver Yang’. On this
occasion, she received a reply.

It was difficult for Ella’s Pink
Lady’s skipper to understand Silver Yang’s Chinese watch keeper because
his spoken English was poor. However, over a series of short
conversations, he confirmed that Ella’s Pink Lady had been dismasted
and that neither the yacht nor its crew needed any assistance. He then
re-started the ship’s main engine, returned it to its original heading
and resumed the voyage.

Ella’s Pink Lady’s skipper used the
yacht’s satellite telephone to call her parents. She spoke to her
father and told him what had happened. While she was talking to her
father, her mother telephoned the Australian Rescue Coordination Centre
(RCC) in Canberra and reported the collision.

The ATSB investigation is ongoing and will focus on several specific areas including:

  • the electronic detectability of the yacht
  • the lookout being kept on board both vessels
  • adherence to the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea (COLREGS)
  • collision risk assessment
  • actions taken following the collision.

Silver Yang was enroute to China, ATSB investigators were unable to
attend the vessel. However, the Hong Kong Marine Department has
assisted the investigation by collecting and providing a range of
material from the ship, including statements from the master and
involved crew.

The final report is unlikely to be available for several months.