Lyttelton, Canterbury tragedy narrowly averted after bulk carrier Rose Harmony collides with fishing vessel Leila Jo


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The Rose Harmony, pictured here in Lyttelton Port, sustained minor damage in the collision. Photo / John Bell

A giant ship near two rugby pitches collided with a 23m fishing boat in a terrifying nighttime crash that miraculously averted death.

The 179m long bulk carrier Rose Harmony was leaving Lyttelton port in Christchurch on January 12 last year when the incident occurred.

The weather was fine, with good night visibility and easy sea conditions, according to a Transportation Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report released today.

The Rose Harmony was bound for Dunedin with passengers from the ship’s charterer on deck, while the fishing vessel Leila Jo was heading to her home port of Lyttelton after fishing in Pegasus Bay.

The collision occurred off Lyttelton Harbor on January 12 last year.  Image / Supplied
The collision occurred off Lyttelton Harbor on January 12 last year. Image / Supplied

Leila Jo’s skipper was resting and a sailor was on watch.

The third officer of the Rose Harmony observed the Leila Jo as it was over three nautical miles (5.6 km).

And the Leila Jo’s seaman had seen a ship leaving Lyttelton on the ship’s radar but had not followed the target or observed it through binoculars.

They were on their way to a head-on collision.

At 10:59 p.m., they collided.

The Leila Jo in dry dock before the accident.  Photo / Supplied
The Leila Jo in dry dock before the accident. Photo / Supplied

Remarkably, neither ship was significantly damaged – and only one person on the Leila Jo was slightly injured.

TAIC’s final report says there are numerous recorded collisions around the world between large vessels and small fishing vessels that have resulted in fatalities.

TAIC said the bridge team aboard the Rose Harmony had poor situational awareness of other maritime traffic in the vicinity and had been distracted by passengers on the bridge. The crew also did not make the best use of the radar equipment and the lack of long-range scanning to get an early warning of the risk of collision were “important factors”.

The only guard on board the Leila Jo, meanwhile, also had poor situational awareness as the radar equipment was not being used to plot the Rose Harmony’s path. Leila’s goalie Jo was not familiar enough with the collision avoidance rules to complete a quarterback alone, TAIC adds.

TAIC noted that the Collision Prevention Rules provide the mandatory standard to be followed by all vessels at sea to prevent collisions of two or more vessels.

“The risk of collision will inevitably be high if the rules are not followed by one or more vessels,” TAIC said.

“Navigating in pilotage waters is a critical phase for the safety of a trip. It is important that all unnecessary distractions are mitigated during these times, especially the presence of people on the bridge who are not essential to its operation.

“To avoid collisions between ships, any person on a bridge watch must be sufficiently trained in the rules of collision prevention and be fully familiar with the bridge equipment at their disposal.”

He recommended boat owner Pegasus Fishing Ltd to upgrade deckhands in watchkeeping practices, while Maritime New Zealand should review watchkeeping training programs.

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