MAIB report: Sun glare a major factor in Red Funnel ferry crash

Red Falcon collided with the 10m Doral sportscruiser Phoenix last summer (29 September), but the ferry’s crew was unaware of any impact until passengers reported it to the bridge

Glare from the afternoon sun has been cited as one of the main reasons that a Red Funnel ferry crashed into a 10m motorcruiser in the Solent last summer (29 September).

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has released its report into the incident, which saw the Doral motorboat Phoenix pinned against the ro-ro passenger ferry’s bow for 18 seconds.

Despite causing major structural damage to the smaller craft and rolling it to a 40-degree angle, the crew of Red Falcon was not aware of any collision due to the sun’s glare, which obscured the view from the bridge for 14 seconds.

In light of this report Red Falcon’s owner, the Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited, has carried out an internal report into improving its watchkeeping practices. The MAIB has made no further recommendations.

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Timeline of the Red Funnel ferry crash

The incident unfolded in the Solent around 16:00, when both vessels departed their homeports bound for Cowes. Red Falcon had 182 passengers on board when it left Southampton, while Phoenix had just four people on board when it left Hamble.

CCTV footage from Red Falcon shows that the collision occurred at 16:35, shortly after a planned course alteration to port. The master and chief officer were only made aware of the incident at 16:44 when the service manager relayed eyewitness reports from the passengers.


The collision rolled Phoenix to port by 40 degrees

Despite this, the master and the chief officer felt sure that the ferry had not hit anything, and so Red Falcon proceeded to East Cowes, berthing at 16:53 and reporting no damage.

Phoenix arrived in West Cowes at 17:20 under her own power accompanied by a lifeboat, having lost the use of her starboard engine. The sportscruiser suffered a 5m split in her GRP hull to deck join, as well as superstructure deformation, and was later deemed a total loss by her insurers. The MAIB report adds that she was not fitted with an AIS transceiver or a VHF radio.

Skippers history

The master of Red Falcon was breathalysed upon his return to Southampton, testing negative. He had six years’ experience helming Raptor Class ferries and was four hours into a 13-hour shift when the incident occurred.

Meanwhile, the skipper of Phoenix had been boating on the Solent since 2001, owning several boats before acquiring the Doral in 2016. Prior to setting off, the owner had consumed two pints of beer with a pub lunch, but was not deemed to be incoherent or under the influence of alcohol upon arrival into West Cowes.

The MAIB report added that a sound signal from Red Falcon (although not mandatory under Colregs after a planned course alteration) would have been helpful, before concluding: “In busy waters such as the Solent, which accommodates large numbers of recreational craft and commercial shipping movements, the importance of maintaining an effective visual lookout is paramount.”


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