The 68m long, 14m wide, 1300 tonne dredger Arco Dee was scheduled to enter Littlehampton Harbor on Saturday, August 3, carrying a cargo of 1200 tonnes of sand dredged from the seabed off Littlehampton.
“Piloting large vessels into the harbor can be a challenging business as the entrance is just 31 meters wide at its narrowest point, has a significant tidal stream that pushes vessels sideways on approach and is shallow enough at the entrance that many of the larger vessels have just 50cm clearance above the seabed as they enter the harbor,” said Littlehampton Harbor in its release.
This means that large vessel visits are most likely to take place around high water on the fortnightly larger high tides (known as “Spring tides”).
One particular sailing yacht was putting herself at significant risk and, after initially appearing to be waiting just out of the way at sea, made a late entry ahead of the Arco Dee at a comparably slower speed.
The Arco Dee’s captain twice sounded 5 blasts on her horn which, under the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea state, means: “I am not sure of your intentions and am concerned we are going to collide”.
The yacht did not respond and made no effort to adjust its course.
The Arco Dee was now proceeding at around 5 knots towards the harbor and so gaining on the yacht ahead of her with the likelihood that they would pass in the vicinity of the Lighthouse. At 2.33pm, the Captain and Pilot agreed that the risk of collision presented significant danger to life so the decision was rapidly made to abort the entry.
The abort manoeuvre required the 1300 tonne ship with its 1200 tonne cargo to make hard turn to the left to bleed off momentum and avoid striking the harbor breakwater and/or running aground.
In the event, the Arco Dee was able to safely enter the harbor on her second attempt at 2.50pm, 55 minutes after high water, and was safely moored on her berth by 3.15pm.
Following the incident, Littlehampton Harbor Board issued a statement, saying that “Poor decisions made by a minority of vessel skippers risked a potentially very serious incident and made the port closure twice as long as normal.”