London P&I Club warns on failure to preserve VDR data
In the latest issue of its StopLoss Bulletin, the club says that its ship inspection programme confirms that the operation of VDR units is generally well-understood by its shipowner members. But it notes that there have nevertheless been instances where masters have failed to perform the steps required to preserve VDR data, or failed to recognise circumstances in which such data – and particularly voice traffic on VHF and on the bridge – may be very valuable in the defence of a claim.
In one instance, a ship heading into port was presented with a ‘head-on’ situation as described in Rule 14 of the International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea. Although it was a departure from the rules, a deal was struck on the VHF between the two ships, involving an alteration of course. The ships subsequently collided, resulting in a substantial claim on the club.
The club says, “The master did not save the VDR data, presumably because the data could have been incriminating and used against him. While the same information was not likely to have reversed any liability for the incident, it may have been useful evidence to assist in reaching an amicable settlement. The effect on the settlement of the claim cannot now be quantified, although it stands to reason that the shipowner would have preferred the master to have saved the information. In an attempt to protect himself, the master may have exposed the owners to a larger settlement.”
In another incident, a container ship entered with the club was forced, due to impending poor weather, to depart from a container berth with many of its containers unlashed. Unfortunately, when the ship was exposed to the poor weather, a number of the unlashed containers were lost overboard. The club says, “In some ways, understandably, the master did not consider this situation to be one where VDR data ought to be saved. But, during the handling of the ensuing claim, the club felt that the VDR data would probably have represented a valuable narrative of the exchanges between the port authorities and the bridge team and could have helped greatly in the claim negotiation.”
The club notes that onboard emergency guidance manuals usually contain aide memoir sheets to assist the master with those structured and ordered tasks which need to be taken in priority order, and are aimed at ensuring that steps are not missed in an emergency. It advises its members to consider the insertion or addition of VDR data saves in an appropriate position on such lists.