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Collision in the Suez Canal involving a moored vessel

Navigating through the Suez Canal is tough. It is one of those places where the ship’s crew has very little control and often don’t have complete knowledge of information crucial for decision making. This sometimes leads to incidents as in the case of The Panamax Alexander [2022], which was moored along the banks of the Canal, but a passing vessel caused her lines to break and she ended up colliding with another ship in the convoy. Liability has to be apportioned between these three ships now.

Alexander was moored using 6 lines as she was damaged following a collision the previous day. Tugs were expected to tow her to Bitter Lakes, but what the crew didn’t know at the time was that two Northbound Convoys will pass her before she can be towed. NYK Falcon, the third ship in the convoy, passed her at 9 knots causing Alexander’s lines to break. Her stern swung towards the middle of the canal. Conversations between the pilots onboard Falcon indicating that they considered SCA Traffic Control’s decision to let the convoy pass Alexander as dangerous. NYK Orpheus was behind Falcon in the convoy and ended up colliding with Alexander.

In Court’s own words this was a case where "Senior officers were not involved in decisions that mattered and Pilots did not share all information with the bridge crew". The Court found Alexander to be at fault for inadequate mooring, and Falcon & Orpheus both for proceeding at excessive speed and improper navigation.

  • Alexander’s mooring -- As per the court it was not proper seamanship to moor using only 6 lines. They had the option to deploy the mooring boat and pass more lines. Once her mooring lines parted, her crew did not alert the traffic control and the convoy coming up.

  • Falcon’s navigation -- Falcon should have passed Alexander at her minimum control speed (i.e. speed required for restricted heading control) of 6 knots. It was also noted that the minimum steering speed of 7 kn indicated on her pilot card was found not to be her slowest safe speed for confined maneuvering. She had also increased her RPM and changed heading before clearing Alexander, which should not have been done.

  • Orpheus’s maneuvering -- The primary fault in the navigation of Orpheus was her excessive speed. Had she been slower she would have maintained a safe distance of 1.0nm from the ship ahead (Falcon). Also, she should have gone for crash astern and deployed her anchors upon noticing Alexander drifting to the centre of the canal.

Alexander and Orpheus were equally blameworthy, but comparatively more than Falcon. Final apportionment was 5:5:2.

Link to the judgement by English High Court:

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