The ability to provide 'appropriate alarms or indications with respect to information displayed' is fundamental to the operation of ECDIS. However, research comleted by the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) has identified 19 key anomalies in the way that some ECDIS detect certain underwater features and isolated dangers. The IHO has produced two fictious ENCs (the IHO Test) that are designed to alert mariners to the possibility that their ECDIS software may require upgrading and that, in the meantime, if any shortcoming are revealed, then they need to take extra measures, such as employing particular equipment operating procedures as well as the use of paper charts.
There may be potential legal consequences if a failure of the ECDIS to detect an underwater feature and alert the user is found to have caused loss or damage to cargo or the vessel, or to have caused death or personal injury to a crew member. This is particularly the case where the incident could have been avoided by the owner or operator completing the IHO test and implementing suitable safeguards. Of course, there can be no hard and fast rule, but the legal consequences could include allegations of corporate manslaughter in the event of death, allegations of unseaworthiness (where there has been a failure to test the ECDIS software) allegations of a failure to exercise due diligence or depending on the facts actual fault and privity within s39(5) of the Marine Act.
In order to comply with IHO Guidance Masters, owners and operators of vessels operating ECDIS should complete the IHO Data Checks at the earliest opportunity and send a complete reporting form to the IHO. In the event that the IHO test identifies anomalies with the detection or display of underwater features or isolated dangers, a risk assessment of ECDIS operation should be carried out to effectively identify operational risks to safe navigation. Suitable control measures should then be carefully documented and introduced into a the company Safety Management System (SMS) until software upgrades can be provided by the manufacturer's representative.
Finally, although the IHO test is not designed to be used during Port State Control inspections, it is possible that inspectors may request confirmation during inspections that the IHO data check has been completed. Failure to provide documentation that the test has been successfully completed or evidence confirming appropriate operational procedures have been introduced may result in the detention of the vessel until a risk assessment of the vessel's safe navigation has been completed
Mariners with concerns as to the ECDIS they are operating should immediately liaise with the Master and/or Designated Person Ashore.
Captain Justin Lawes
C Solutions Limited
Above article has been initially published at Seaways, The International Journal of the Nautical Institute