Posted on: 24 February 2012   By cheryl.zimmerman
Old Shipwreck - used under creative commons license: Wollex at the German language Wikipedia
An old shipwreck
FarSounder's Forward Looking Sonar for navigation and obstacle avoidance
FarSounder sonar looks ahead to obstacle
MY Land's End - Photo credit: Marine Nationale
M/Y Land's End grounded on a reef
MY Cocktail - Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard
M/Y Cocktail aground near shore
Grounded Freighter - used under creative commons license:
Grounded cargo ship

Throughout the centuries that man has taken to the seas, ship (and crew/passenger) safety has been a critical concern. In both known and unknown waters, groundings and collisions have cost the lives of countless souls. These accidents have significant economic impacts with loss of ships and cargo and also environmental impacts due to oils spills and destruction of marine habitats.

Over these centuries, incremental improvements to navigation have improved safety at sea. In particular, the 20th century saw huge leaps forward in safety technologies and regulations, saving lives, cargo, and ships. In today's world, one would not even think of operating large vessels without the use of radar, depth sounders, ECDIS, and/or electronics charts with GPS. But still these technologies are missing an important piece of information. They can't tell the ship operator what is under the water in front of the ship right now.

FarSounder navigation systems provide this missing piece of the puzzle. They detect sand shoals, rocky shores, ice, coral, and whales - things that passenger ships (or any ship) should never touch.

Why are FarSounder 3D forward looking sonars so important?

  • Because radar cannot see through water,

  • charts do not know what has changed, and

  • a ship's depth sounder looks down - not forward.

As our customers have seen, in the 21st century, technology has advanced further. We at FarSounder believe it is once again time to update safety regulations for commercial ships, particularly those transporting passengers and hazardous materials, to include 3D forward looking obstacle avoidance sonar systems. Increasing the safety of the passengers and crew is paramount, and today's best available technology may help future passengers and crews have an increased level of safety. What better way to illustrate a commitment to safety than to invest in a FarSounder.

It is important not to forget the fact that the commercial bridge is, indeed, overburdened with many electronics. The crew must be convinced and well trained to use even the current tools that are available. However, expanding the navigator's toolbox with a device that shows obstacles under water and in front of the vessel is a logical addition to charts, GPS, and radar.

Recent Accidents

The following is a short listing of various case studies where our sonar systems my have helped prevent an accident by looking ahead underwater.

August 9, 2006: One Day/Two Yacht Accidents: Submerged Reef/Shallow Water Grounding

Two luxury megayachts hit reefs in the Mediterranean Sea on the same day. These unrelated accidents resulted in one sinking and the other suffering serious damage. The 162-foot M/Y Land's End ran aground on the St. Joseph reef in the Gulf of Sagone on the east side of Corsica, about a mile offshore. With 12 charter guests and 13 crew it was fortunate that there were no injuries. The yacht sank three days later. In a separate incident, the 100-foot Mr Z ran aground in Croatia. The yacht drove too close ashore at high speed near the lighthouse on the island of Greben at about 0410 hours. It was badly damaged, and the five people on board sustained minor injuries.

January 29, 2007: Grounding of the MS Nordkapp: Shallow Water Grounding 

The MS Nordkapp ran aground off Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands in the Antarctic. The vessel was carrying 295 passengers and 76 crew members when it ran aground. Its sister ship, the MS Nordnorge, was able to pick up the passengers at Whalers Bay and returned them to Ushuaia in southern Argentina.

November 23, 2007: The Sinking of the M/V Explorer: Submerged Ice

One may recall the cruise ship The Explorer which struck submerged ice and sunk in the antarctic on November 23, 2007. The passengers and crew were fortunate that there were two ships nearby and everyone was safely evacuated. If there was not the good fortune of ships traveling in this remote area, then very likely the casualties could have been quite high. The waters were too cold to survive in and as it was, the passengers had already spent four hours in open lifeboats and inflatable craft off the Antarctic peninsula.

August 7, 2011: Megayacht Cocktails: Collision with a Rock

The Miami-based yacht Cocktails hit a rock 100-yards off Nobska Beach near Woods Hole, Mass which caused a large hole (10cm x 51cm) in the boat’s bow. The two people on board were rescued by the US Coast Guard.

January 31, 2011: The Grounding of M/V Polar Star: Uncharted Rock

The MV Polar Star apparently hit an uncharted rock in the Matha Strait off the Antarctic Peninsula. Fortunately there was no loss of life for all 80 passengers and 35 crew members and this ice breaker class, double hulled ship was able to disembark their passengers at King George Island in the South Shetland Islands. Though no loss of life, by May 15 of that year Karlsen Shipping Co, Ltd., the company which owned the ship, was placed into receivership.

October 8, 2011: Container Ship Rena: Well Charted Reef in the Dark

The 47,230 ton container-ship Rena, traveling at an average speed of 17 knots ploughed into Astrolabe Reef, a small 80 meters wide reef which was noted on historical charts since 1827. By early 2012 the stern of the Greek-owned Rena, which had earlier broken in two, slipped off the reef and submerged, with the bow section remaining upright and wedged on the reef. The Rena leaked large amounts of fuel in what has become New Zealand's worst maritime environmental disaster.

Lessons Learned

The previous examples are just a small sampling of the accidents and groundings that have occurred in the past decade. Maritime accidents occur on a regular basis, and of course cannot all be avoided, but even in cases where it has been shown to be operator error (such as with the Exxon Valdez or the more recent Costa Concordia accident), this technology could have helped avert disaster. If a captain makes made a poor routing choice, the FarSounder will display a brilliant screen alarming of rocks, reefs, and shallows potentially allowing enough time for crew on the ship's bridge to react.

Constantly improving safety at sea can help minimize casualties, environmental damage, and the costs across all sectors of the maritime economy. 3D forward looking sonar is a valuable enhancement to improving safety at sea. Adopting this advanced technology on commercial ships, particularly in the case of passenger vessels and those carrying hazardous materials, is the next step for the industry.