Bridge Resource Management – A New Focus On Watchkeeping

John Konrad
Total Views: 1516
November 11, 2007

First a note… I am publishing this short clip ahead of my next article because of its importance!

While preparing our upcoming “questions for investigators” article on the Cosco Busan incident we were asked by more than one party a question along this line; with communications failure being a leading cause of incidents and the crew of the Cosco Busan being Chinese of limited english skills (they required translators during the investigation) why do incidents of this type not happen more often?

The answer is Bridge Team Management.

Ok… so what is BRM? Simply because it’s an increase focus of incident investigation and watchkeeping.

Revisiting a previous post I state:

  • Bridge Team (or resource) Management (called BRM in the industry) is a process to use all of your available resources during critical operations. It came from the airline industry which found an alarming number of accidents happened despite prior warning from the equipment or crew…. mostly by captains with military backgrounds and a “I can do this” attitude who did not fully use critical information from either the equipment or junior personnel.Boiled down it’s a class all officers must take in both teamwork and processing the large amounts of data (lookout reports, radar, radio comms, gps charting, weather information….) that pours into the bridge.
  • Here’s a more official answer:The Bridge Team Management course introduces the concept of a navigation team to ship masters and watch officers and frames their decision making process toward establishing watch conditions during the course of the voyage. Bridge Team Management techniques will emphasize decision making based upon conditions related to workload and potential threat to the vessel. The intent of the program is to define the individual task and responsibilities of the various team members while developing a situational awareness to prevent individual errors.

In stating the importance of this post I am looking at the media reaction to the incident. In reporting disasters the public is often not satisfied until a single individual is blamed…. quickly. This was the case in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Tampa Skyway Bridge Disaster and even in the early reports on the Empress of the North grounding where fault was placed on the Jr. Officer on watch who was only weeks out of the Maritime Academy. In the Empress of the North incident gCaptain broke from traditional media and laid the blame on management techniques rather than the “green” officer and we are happy to report he was recently clear of all charges (as was Capt. Hazelwood of the Exxon Valdez).

It is clear to us the Cosco Busan allided with the Bay Bridge because of a breakdown in Bridge Team Management. For example while VTS contacted the ship questing its course did the mate on watch, captain, helmsman or assist tug captain also voice concern? Was the equipment operational and set up properly? As the primary fault for the Exxon Valdez incident was not with Captain Hazelwood (he was cleared of charges and his license was reinstated) John Cota, Pilot aboard the Cosco Busan is not solely at fault for this incident.

The team failed the Cosco Busan not the ship’s Chinese Captain or American Pilot alone. Lets just hope the court of public opinion does not convict either person before the long and thorough investigation is completed. Otherwise they might stand the fate of Captain Hazelwood, cleared of charges and fully licensed to pilot a ship but unable to find a company willing to hire him.


Asking yourself how a ship 131 wide could have such trouble in a channel 737 metres wide? Read a more unbelievable story HERE then watch the amazing slideshow HERE.

UPDATE: Bob Couttie of the Maritime Accident Casebook has a very interesting article along similar lines. You can find it HERE.

Criminal probe opened in Bay oil spill

The entire crew of the cargo ship that sideswiped a bridge, causing San Francisco Bay‘s worst oil spill in nearly two decades, has been detained as part of a criminal investigation, a Coast Guard official said Sunday.

Capt. William Uberti said he notified the U.S. attorney’s office on Saturday about issues involving management and communication among members of the bridge crew: the helmsman, the watch officer, the ship’s master and the pilot.

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