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USS John S. McCain - Why maritime regulations are crucial to avoid collisions

Since June, two US destroyers have collided with merchant vessels in North and Southeast Asia. DW talks to marine expert Matthew Williams about maritime safety and regulations, and reasons behind such collisions.

On Monday, the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant vessel while en route to Singapore. This incident follows a deadly collision between another American destroyer, USS Fitzgerald, and container ship off Japan in June. Both of the warships are part of the American 7th fleet.

In an interview with DW, Matthew Williams, a senior marine adviser at the International Chamber of Shipping, explains why it is crucial for vessels to strictly follow the maritime guidelines.

DW: What kind of maritime regulations exist to avoid collisions of ships and other sea vessels?

Matthew Williams: All vessels are required to comply with the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) 1972.

Are the rules different for military vessels?

The regulations apply to all vessels - there are no exceptions. According to the COLREGS, the rules "apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels."

Watch video 01:06

US Navy destroyer, merchant ship collide

How do ships ensure that collisions do not occur?

Vessels ensure it by complying with the COLREGS, particularly the Steering and Sailing Rules in Part B of the COLREGS.

On Monday, the destroyer USS John S. McCain sustained damage after it collided with a merchant vessel off Singapore. Was it a result of a miscommunication?

At this stage it is too early to conclude what the causal and contributing factors to this marine safety incident were and it would be inappropriate to comment in relation to the incident.

The Strait of Malacca has one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. What could be done to avoid such accidents in the region?

Any region in the world where high volumes of vessel traffic occur presents a challenge for Bridge Teams. Navigation in such regions requires particular alertness in order to maintain situational awareness and ensure proper and effective action in accordance with the COLREGS. The seas surrounding the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, and the Straits themselves, are no different.

The Straits of Malacca and Singapore are important and busy shipping routes. Consequently, appropriate and effective steps have been taken by the littoral states to contribute to the safety of navigation and protection of the marine environment in the Straits. These include an IMO for a traffic separation scheme and rules of navigation, a mandatory ship reporting system and vessel traffic services.

Read more: South China Sea: China protests after US warship sails near island

Matthew Williams is Senior Marine Adviser at the UK-based International Chamber of Shipping.

The interview was conducted by Rodion Ebbighausen.

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