When the 19th Century dawned, there have been surprisingly, no official rules or guidelines for avoiding collisions stumped , despite the very fact that ever since ships first took to the water, they have seemingly done their very best to collide with one another.
Why do ships collide?
Perhaps the best explanation I have found is as follows:
Whilst walking along a pavement at peace with the world, have you ever had the experience of spying a fellow pedestrian ambling towards you? The other fellow is some way off, but head on and trying in vain to take evasive action. The closer you get, the more course changes you both make, but despite there being very few others around, you still contrive to clash bags or briefcases, or even grind to an embarrassing halt, face-to-face.
Put the above scenario in the context of two ships at sea. Your closing speed is perhaps but 6 knots and your legs answer to your brain far faster than any ship will answer to its’ helm. Yet the incident still occurs, albeit you were both in plain sight of every other for a few time. It is difficult to determine what the other party is going to do, as there are no “rules” governing the situation. As you opt to show left, they plan to turn right then on, until the inevitable occurs.
On the roads, we get round the problem by separating lanes of traffic, which are of opposite directions. In the air, controllers monitor all busy areas and define the courses, speeds and heights the pilots are to follow along officially designated air corridors. At sea however, we don’t have any white lines, nor artificial barriers and thanks to the curvature of the world , only a couple of special areas which will be monitored by radar, thereby giving the monitors some measure of control.
Centuries before any legislation appeared governing the prevention of collisions at sea, there existed customary rules of good seamanship, which were evolved and observed by seafaring peoples in different parts of the world. There was thus built up what might be called a common law of seamanship and this was given effect to, in this country, by the Courts of Admiralty, with the advice of the Master of Trinity House. It was only in 1840, that the primary attempt was made, to regularize the actions that ships should take when a risk of collision existed. Trinity House promulgated a group of rules, which got statutory force by a neighborhood of the Steam Navigation Act of 1846.
The Collision Regulations were made by an Order-in-Council in 1896. All these were repealed and reproduced without alteration as regards British vessels, by the order of 1910. This was a major breakthrough date, as this was the first time that the “rules” were given International Status, and were adopted by most seafaring nations. The Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea made by that Order, remained in force until 1st Jan 1954, when they were replaced by the Regulations which were approved by the International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea held in London during 1948. In 1960 another International Conference on Safety of Life at Sea was held in London, this time under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO – later to become the International Maritime Organisation or IMO), to think about and approve, amongst other things, proposed changes within the International Collision Regulations. The revised Regulations came into force on 1st Sept 1965 were the first time that radar and radar assisted collisions were recognized. By March 1965, some thirty-six countries had agreed to apply the new Regulations and it was expected that many others would do so, in due course.
However, it had been soon realized that changes were needed, thanks to the event of faster, larger and differing types of craft, like hovercraft. Upon the initiative of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, a conference was held in London in October 1972 for the purpose of revising the Collision Regulations of 1960.
As a result of its deliberations, the conference adopted and opened for signature the Convention on International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972, to which were attached the Rules and Annexes, which constitute the main regulations of today. The Convention was to enter into force, only 12 months after the date on which at least 15 States had become parties to it. However, the mixture of the Merchant Fleets comprised with the 15 States, wasn’t to be but 65% by number or tonnage of the planet fleet of 100 gross tons and over. This necessary acceptance having been achieved by July 1976, the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 came into force on 15th July 1977.
Certain other changes have been made over the years. For example in 1911, if two vessels collided, then the vessel that disobeyed a rule at the critical juncture would be held entirely responsible and therefore the other vessel was exonerated. The Maritime Conventions Act of 1911 however, abolished this practice in what was known as the Statutory Presumption of Fault. An injured vessel then had to prove that the others breach of a regulation was a minimum of a contributory cause, if not the only explanation for the collision. Liability is nowadays more shared and no one vessel is ever 100% blameworthy, nor is it ever 100% free of blame either.
Further amendments were made in 1983 and 1995, which subtly changed some of the rules and that is how the main body of the rules stand today. For example, fishing vessels may not display a basket if they’re under 20 meters long , but must display the form consisting of two cones apex together, irrespective of their length. The 2001 amendments introduce WIG (Wing in Ground) craft, giving a definition and their responsibilities with reference to other vessels.
Note : All these rules are going to be your bible for the rest of your sea life.
This notes was compiled from various sources available in different books and from websites like shipofficer.com, IMO, etc.
Authored By:- Cdt. Kaustuv Sen, TMI