Last week, a container ship came dangerously close to slamming into the Silva sailing ship.
The incident — called a “a close-quarters situation” — occurred on Tuesday, June 7, at 5:22 in the evening, as the container ship NYK Rumina, a 55,000-tonne container ship, was heading into the Narrows. The harbour was fogbound. The Silva was in the area of the “Ferry Track,” an imaginary line that runs between Jetty November Bravo in the Navy Dockyard and the Alderney Landing ferry Wharf.
“The Silva called in to Halifax Traffic [MCTS, the Marine Communications and Traffic Services Halifax] and informed them that they were southbound at the Ferry Track and were close to the Dockyard fence,” Peter Greathead, the captain of the ferry Christopher Stannix, tells the Examiner. With Greathead at the helm, the ferry was crossing the harbour at the time of the incident, just leaving Halifax bound for Alderney Landing.
“The pilot on the NYK Rumina called the Silva to confirm that they were clear of his intended track for the Narrows,” continues Greathead. “The Silva doesn’t have an AIS and the pilot on the NYK Rumina was tracking them by radar. The Silva confirmed that they were southbound and close to the dockyard fence, but the pilot was tracking them further out into the harbour than they had indicated. The pilot started to slow the Rumina drastically and called the Silva to inquire their intentions. The Silva re-confirmed that they were southbound and were close to the fence. The Rumina was at this point almost at a dead stop just about 200 meters out from the Halifax Ferry Terminal.”
Greathead’s account is confirmed by Stephen Bornais, a spokesperson with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “Visibility in the harbour at the time was very poor and the two vessels within 300 metres of each other,” writes Bornais in an email. “The officer on duty at MCTS noticed the situation while tracking the Silva on radar. The sailing vessel was contacted and advised they were in danger. The Silva’s crew believed they were in a different location than her actual position. The harbour ferry Christopher Stannix confirmed the Silva’s location to MCTS and this information was relayed to the Silva. In order to avoid collision, the NYK Rumina stopped her engines and the Silva altered her course to starboard.”
Greathead says he saw the Silva emerge from the fog near Purdy’s Wharf. Rumina then continued on to Fairview Cove. About an hour later the pilot that had been guiding the Rumina was a passenger on the ferry and discussed the incident with Greathead. The pilot told Greathead that MCTS tracking for the Silva showed that after the first call to the Silva, the boat turned northwest and then north.
“If I was to surmise what happened,” says Greathead, “I imagine that the Silva on her southbound course, strayed away from the Dockyard fence further out into the stream. When the pilot called the first time, they realized they were further out and quickly turned to the west to come closer to the fence, and oversteered turning to the northwest and then to north, probably doing a complete 360 and emerging near to Purdy’s Wharf.”
MCTS has not returned calls for comment.
Bornais, with Fisheries and Oceans, says an investigation will be conducted by Transport Canada.
Terri McCulloch, a spokesperson for Murphy’s Cable Wharf, which operates the Silva says TCTS has contacted all the operators of all vessels involved. “The Silva was never close to the container ship,” she says.
McCulloch points out that the Silva is fully licensed and compliant with all Transport Canada regulations. After the incident, “Transport Canada cleared us for continued operations,” she says.
This afternoon, the Silva was returning from a cruise around Georges Island. “We’re coming in too close!” yelled a deckhand, and the boat proceeded to scrape against the wooden dock before hitting the rubber tires that protect the dock. Both the dock and the boat shuddered noticeably.
Greathead says the Silva incident was followed by a second close call in the harbour. On Sunday, the Katie Belle, a sailing vessel, was “narrowly missed being converted into kindling when she crossed the path of the outbound car carrier Zenith Leader.
“At first glance the collision regs give the right of way to sailing vessels over power vessels, but there’s another rule which states ‘a vessel under 20 metres or a sailing vessel shall not impede the path of a power driven vessel which can only navigate safely within the confines of a channel or waterway,’” says Greathead. “I would gather the captain on the Katie Belle tried to do a sail over power situation and the pilot on the Zenith Leader reamed him out on the VHF radio.”
Greathead provides the below map of the incident. The large rectangular green shape is the Zenith Leader. The smaller green triangle is the Katie Belle.
“Its been an interesting couple of weeks,” says Greathead. “I’m hoping the summer is less eventful.”
Many years ago, in another lifetime, I worked on one of those small charter boats (no, not with Murphy’s). Many, many of the crew that would be hired for the summer were not experienced boaters or deckhands; occasionally there would be those with small sailboat experience but not much else. I’m not talking about the ship skippers, I didn’t know of any boats whereby they skippers didn’t have 40-ton tickets or greater qualifications.
The incident described where the boat hits the dock, hard, those types of things happened more frequently than you might expect–inexperienced crew, skippers teaching said crew how to “come alongside” etc. will lead to bumps.
But the main incident is concerning. The Silva is very lucky indeed in this instance that the MCTS pilot was doing his job, as clearly was the Rumina, keeping an eye to radar. While the general rule is that yes, sailboats have right of way, due to their limited manoeuvrability, there’s also the law of gross tonnage–a container ship of Rumina’s size simply cannot stop. For the Murphy’s spokesperson to insist the Silva “was never close to the container ship” shows either lack of understanding of how close this situation was, or is an insult to the audience, as anyone with basic navigation skills will understand the seriousness of this call. It would be interesting to see the outcome of the Transport Canada investigation.