Report into near miss between passenger ferries raises major questions of Rosslare Port Control

Marine Casualty Investigation Board reveals that those responsible for directing huge passenger ships at the Europort have no formal maritime qualifications

Rosslare Europort.

Pádraig ByrneWexford People

A recently published report from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has detailed a near miss between two large passenger ferries at Rosslare Europort and has called into question the port's ability to manage the current volume of traffic entering and exiting the port, with one source describing the existing setup as “an accident waiting to happen”.

The report presented the findings of an investigation into a “close quarter incident” between the Stena Europe and Brittany Ferries’ ‘Connemara’ which took place in March of last year and saw the two large ships passing within 100 metres of each other.

The Connemara was on its way into Rosslare having come from Bilbao, while the Stena Europe was scheduled to sail to Fishguard.

The report notes that Connemara “did not follow instructions from Rosslare Harbour Control and instead of holding position, proceeded towards the breakwater”. The Stena Europe had been given permission to sail by Rosslare Port Control and had “departed its berth unaware that Connemara was approaching the breakwater”.

The two vessels met just beyond the breakwater and both had to take action to avoid a collision, resulting in a close quarter situation.

In its conclusions, the MCIB stated that the bridge team of the Connemara had “failed to follow instructions” and “instead proceeded directly towards the port knowing that another vessel was inbound”. It also said that communication on the bridge of the ferry and contingency planning was “extremely lacking”.

More worryingly, however,  the report was also quite critical of the communication from Rosslare Port Control.

It stated: “Rosslare Port Control should have been able to manage this situation and to ensure that arriving and departing vessel do not have to worry about close quarter situations off the entrance to the harbour.  Arriving and departing vessels should not end up in a situation where they have to contact each other on VHF to arrange passing.”

It was also noted that the duty Port Controller may have been distracted at the time the incident occurred.

“The duty Port Controller was also engaged in other duties in addition to VTS (Vessel Traffic Service) duties. He could not have been completely focused on the vessels manoeuvring in and off the port.”

The report also asked major questions as to the level of qualifications or training obtained by those directing huge passenger ferries in and out of the Wexford port.

“The Port Controller has no maritime qualifications or training and therefore cannot be expected to fully appreciate the manoeuvrability of the vessels operating in and out of the port,” the incident report stated. “A lack of training and maritime experience meant that the Port Controller could not have anticipated the seriousness or potential consequences of allowing a situation such as this one to develop."

The report goes on to state that while there is no legal requirement for maritime or VTS qualifications, the complete lack of maritime experience was a factor.

“For a port that handles over 30 sailings per week, the qualifications and training required to be a Port Controller at Rosslare are very low,” it said. “The in-house training for all controllers at Rosslare consists of shadowing existing Port Controllers for a two-week period. The only VTS or maritime experience the existing Port Controllers have is from working in Rosslare Port Control.

"The existing Port Controllers do not have any VTS or maritime qualifications, nor do they have any formal training qualifications to assist with the process of training a new Port Controller. The lack of training and maritime experience made it very difficult for the Port Controller to fully appreciate the potential consequences of allowing a close quarter situation to develop.”

Given the massively increased traffic to and from Rosslare Europort, this is a potential cause for concern and this particular close encounter may have served as a shot across the bow as unprecedented growth continues.