Sorellina - Bec d’Ambès english summary

In the evening of the 21 September 2012, after having disembarked its passengers at Blaye in Gironde, the barge LA SORELLINA was heading for Bordeaux. That same evening, the ship CÔTES DE BRETAGNE left the port of Bordeaux heading for the sea. On 22 September, at about ten past midnight, the two vessels collided at low speed in the vicinity of Bec d’Ambès. Further to this collision, LA SORELLINA sank in less than 40 seconds.
There were no victims. The barge’s helmsman and the seaman jumped into the water and were recovered by the crew of the CÔTES DE BRETAGNE. This accident could however have had much more serious consequences under slightly different circumstances, particularly if there had been passengers in LA SORELLINA’s reception room at the time of the collision, as this 39-metre long barge was authorised to transport up to 150 passengers.

The direct cause of the collision was the manoeuvre accomplished by the barge which, as it entered the Garonne navigation channel, stayed on the left side of the channel in the direction it was sailing, on the side with the red buoys, instead of going to the right side or placing itself immediately under shelter between the red buoys and the bank.
The sinking of this barge was the consequence of the inrush of water into three consecutive compartments, including its reception room, which should each have been watertight.

Four factors contributed to this accident :

  • the obligation imposed by the special navigation police regulations in the Gironde estuary on all inland waterway vessels, whatever their size, not to hinder seagoing vessels, which caused the helmsman of LA SORELLINA to prefer to stay on the left side of the Garonne navigation channel, so that he would be able to sail between the buoys and the riverbank, rather than going to and following the right side of the channel ;
  • absence of any attempt by the officers of the watch on either of the vessels to determine their respective intentions, whether by communicating with each other, or by contacting the harbour master’s office at the Grand Port Maritime de Bordeaux ;
  • absence on-board LA SORELLINA of an automatic identification system (AIS) which would, in particular, have enabled the harbour master’s office to detect that the two vessels were approaching each other ;
  • the glaring over-estimation of LA SORELLINA’s floatability after being damaged, which had been assessed without taking into account the fact that the doors in the bulkheads separating the reception room from the adjacent rooms would always be open in commercial operation.

This analysis led BEA-mer and BEA-TT to make three recommendations regarding :

  • the standardisation of right-of-way rules applying respectively to seagoing vessels and barges in the Gironde estuary ;
  • the obligation imposed on inland waterway vessels the most at risk when navigating in this estuary to have an automatic identification system ;
  • the fact that the actual operating conditions must be taken into account when assessing the floatability of passenger waterway vessels after being damaged, particularly concerning the openings made in bulkheads.

Furthermore, without making any formal recommendations, BEA-mer and BEA-TT drew the attention of the ship and boat crews to the importance of not rushing to disengage a vessel from a breach caused by a collision in order to leave, insofar as possible, the time for the crew and any passengers on the holed boat or ship to take the necessary measures for organising their evacuation.
BEA-TT also invites the DGITM (Directorate-General for Infrastructure, Transport and the Sea) to examine the conditions for the lasting improvement of the technical skills of the services in charge of verifying the safety of inland waterway vessels.

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