You Know How To Twitter – But Can You CHIRP?

No I’m not being funny. In the nautical context it does not have anything to do with bird song, a signal used in sonar and radio, teaching machines to sing, or programming your amateur radio.
It stands for Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme – quite a mouthful but well worth while finding out about!

It was originally set up in 1982 to contribute to the improvement of aviation safety in the UK, by providing a confidential, independent reporting system for those employed in or associated with the industry. In 1996 it was restructured in the form of a charitable company limited by guarantee to allow it to make a more effective contribution to the resolution of safety-related issues. The maritime programme was established in 2003 and deals with reports from those in the international maritime sector, including the shipping industry, the fishing industry and leisure boaters. CHIRP are anxious to hear about any near miss experiences where an accident was only just avoided. These may not have been recorded elsewhere but could provide useful advice for future practice.

Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme

The identities of reporters are kept confidential and their personal details are not retained, but the information is made available to those authorities who can take action to remedy the problem. Reports are published only with the agreement of the reporter and after all identifying information about them has been removed. Important information is often gained through these reports, which plays a large part in improving safety standards. CHIRP encourages seafarers to take full advantage of the findings in these reports.

Reports can be made about literally any aspect of seafaring including faulty kit, collision avoidance, fire hazards on board, confusion about Mayday signals, offshore installations and heavy weather injury. Here are just a few examples:

  • A loaded tanker was forced to stop their engine in order to avoid a collision with an approaching vessel which had failed to give way in accordance with the Collision Regulations. After reviewing the details and questioning the operators of both vessels, CHIRP reported that it was the approaching vessel’s responsibility to comply with the Colregs and that they should have taken early and decisive action.
  • The safety of passengers was questioned by a passenger on a car ferry. On a day of driving rain and high winds, passengers, including children and infirm travellers had to cross a wet, slippery deck strewn with obstacles. The operator of the ferry was questioned but it was found that provision was in place for those requiring assistance, including placing vehicles near lifts for easy access, crew members being on hand to give assistance and a non- slip coating on the deck. This example shows that not all reporting results in approbation.
  • The dangers of leisure yachts sailing through oil fields and the potential hazards in marine seismic operational areas were underlined by a near accident when a yacht was observed on a course which would result in crossing behind a Seismic Survey vessel near enough to pass over the towed marine equipment. The yacht could not be contacted using VHF, had no visible navigation lights and was apparently sailing without a lookout or anyone visible on deck. The yacht had already sailed over 5 of the 10 towed streamers before contact was made and the yacht was directed out of the danger area by a chase vessel. The seismic vessel was showing correct lights and shapes for a vessel restricted in ability to manoeuvre due to towed equipment. If the chase vessel had not been able to escort the yacht clear of the towed equipment then there would have been a high risk of collision resulting in potential serious damage to the vessels involved. After the investigation both vessels were advised to improve their procedures. The seismic vessel and chase vessel were recommended to optimise their radar settings for prevailing weather conditions, while the sailing yacht was directed to make themselves compliant with IRPCS and of the importance of carrying operational VHF radio and other auxiliary means of detection. This near accident is a clear warning for other leisure boaters to make themselves familiar with the potential hazards of offshore operations.
  • The wording of Rule 9 of the 1972 Colregs (see note below), concerning narrow channels, was brought into discussion after an oil rig supply vessel collided with a Panamax-sized bulk carrier in the western approaches to Hong Kong harbour. (Panamax is the term for the size limit for ships traveling through the Panama Canal and is dependent on the width and length of the lock chambers). The damage sustained caused the supply vessel to sink rapidly with the loss of 18 of her crew. The investigations raised concerns about the wording of Rule 9 and whether it applies only within a narrow channel or fairway or whether it applies to entrances of harbours. The international conference that drew up the COLREGS rejected a proposal to include a definition of “narrow channel” in Rule 9, thereby putting the responsibility on mariners to decide for themselves whether a particular stretch of water is covered by the rule or not. (Rule 9 states that i. A vessel proceeding along a narrow channel must keep to starboard. ii. Small vessels or sailing vessels must not impede larger vessels which can navigate only within a narrow channel. iii. Ships must not cross a channel if to do so would impede another vessel which can navigate only within that channel.)

It may save lives.

As well as reported accidents or near accidents, CHIRP also receives information about investigations by the UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB). These may cover subjects ranging from safety issues with wind farms to the hazards of Bio-diesel.

Just reading about CHIRP’s investigations is interesting, useful and illuminating, but if you have encountered a potential hazard, have had a boating accident or near accident, or if you have come across an anomaly in a set of rules which you believe warrants investigation, then it could be worth your while contacting CHIRP with your report. It may save lives.

Author – Dee White

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