On Tuesday, 16-year-old Jessica Watson set off on her 10.4m yacht from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in preparation for a record-breaking solo around-the-world journey. By 2am Wednesday morning her journey had come to an abrupt end, after she collided with a container ship.

Master Mariner Richard Morris says the responsibility appears to ultimately rest with the container ship and Watson should keep following her dreams.

Q: Firstly, what is a Master Mariner?

A: It’s the highest qualification for a sea-going Captain. For instance, in aviation terms it’s like flying a 747. So I’m qualified to be Captain of the ship that hit Jessica’s yacht. I’ve spent 15 years at sea, half of which was on commercial ships like this one.

Q: Is it risky travelling by yourself like Jessica did?

A: Sailing single-handed or with a small crew is very common amongst small sailing yachts. These yachts are fitted with an automatic steering system which allows the person on the yacht to go and have some sleep downstairs and the yacht steers itself. While it doesn’t get you out of the way of anything it maintains a steady course.

Q: Was she prepared enough?

A: Yeah. She’s prepared as best as she possibly can. Her yacht has gone to a lot of effort to make sure that she’s seen by big ships. All little sailing yachts have fitted at the top of their mast what’s called a radar reflector — apparently Jessica’s yacht’s fitted with something called a vector which sends out a bit of a signal. The point of it is that it makes this little fibre glass yacht be seen by big ships really clearly on their radars.

Q: How could this collision have happened?

A: It’s 2.30am in the morning so the Second Officer is on watch. He does midnight till 4am. There’s also supposed to be another crewman on the bridge wing and he’s the lookout. The sole responsibility of the lookout is to look out with his eyeballs. Jessica’s yacht would’ve had lights on and those white lights would’ve been visible for 10 miles in clear visibility. Obviously the lookout wasn’t watching.

Q: Wouldn’t they have seen Jessica on the radar?

A: The Second Officer was probably in the bathroom or getting a cup of tea — he wasn’t looking out on the radar. The crewman who was supposed to be looking out was — for whatever reason — was not. And that happens. I’m sure the people on this ship are reasonable people and if they knew there was a crash they would’ve stopped. I have no information apart from what I’ve seen on the internet but it appears to me that the ship had no knowledge that they’d even hit her.

Q: Who would be responsible in such a collision?

A: The responsibility of the person on watch was not to hit the yacht. The International Regulations for Prevention of Collision at Sea states at Rule 18(a)(iv) — Responsibilities Between Vessels: “a power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of a sailing vessel.” Very, very clearly it’s a breach of Rule 18.

Q: After the collision is there any other requirement for the ship to help?

A: Of course. But that’s if they were aware of the accident. This is a big ship — an impact with a little sailing boat wouldn’t make the slightest impact.

Q: Should a 16-year-old be sailing around the world?

A: Why not? She’s qualified, she’s had the right training, she’s got the right boat. I saw her boat at the Sydney boat show — it’s the best quality boat. They’ve done everything right. When we were 16 we could rule the world, we could do anything. At 16 you’re allowed to get a pilot’s license and fly an aeroplane. Why can’t you sail a yacht? She seems to me to be a plucky girl. Go for it girl! That’s what I say.

View our Crikey Clarifier archive