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July 30, 2002

Pilot fatigue concern in Australian grounding
Authorities investigating a ship aground on the Great Barrier Reef are expected to examine a marine pilot's work schedule, reports the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

There is concern he was working a 48 hour shift on a compulsory pilotage leg after boarding more than a day earlier.

The 73,000 tonne coal-carrying Doric Chariot remains stranded 600 kilometers north-west of Cairns.

Steve Bredhauer, the Queensland Minister for Transport outlined the basic circumstances of the grounding in a statement to Parliament this morning:

"At 4am yesterday a 225-meter bulk carrier ran aground on a sand bank off Piper Reef - 600 kilometers (330 nautical miles) north of Cairns.

The Greek-owned Doric Chariot was en route from Hay Point to India.

Aerial surveillance has confirmed that the vessel is lying in a stable condition.

There is no report of any spillage and no pollution is evident.

Appropriate oil spill response equipment and resources are currently being mobilized.

A tidal surveyor and emergency response personnel are on their way to the incident site and are due to arrive late this afternoon.

An attempt to refloat the ship on the high tide at midnight last night was unsuccessful.

The tides are unlikely to be suitable for a further attempt until later this week.

I am advised that a salvage operator is en route to the site to undertake an assessment of the vessel and speak to the owners about the appointment of a salvor - who will prepare a salvage plan.

Queensland Transport has a telephone hook-up with the vessel's owners in London at 4.30am this afternoon to confirm these arrangements.

Environmental and indigenous groups are being advised of the incident and the steps being taken for the removal of the vessel.

Weather conditions are stable and are predicted to remain that way for the next few days.

An investigation team has been assembled and arrangements are being made for them to travel to the site.

A full investigation will be undertaken involving other agencies, such as AMSA and GBRMPA as appropriate."

The ABC report quotes the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Ben Mitchell as saying that standards for pilots include minimum rest periods before work but compulsory pilotage means breaks would be only a couple of hours.

"In the less hazardous areas, the pilot can have a rest but we're looking at shortage breaks," he said.

ABC quotes Transport Minister Steve Bredhauer as saying the situation is not uncommon. "Providing the fatigue management plan has been followed then it shouldn't be a problem," he said.

ABC notes the grounding came just days after Australia's Federal Government accepted in principle a range of tougher measures to prevent marine accidents on the reef.

Meantime, a separate ABC report records that the Queensland Government has passed legislation that provides for the establishment of a new agency, "Maritime Safety Queensland", which will replace the Maritime Division of Queensland Transport.

Transport Minister Steve Bredhauer has told the Queensland Parliament the agency will manage existing commercial arrangements for port pilotage.

According to the ABC report, Bredhauer says that though the pilotage of ships in coastal waters falls under Federal Government jurisdiction, there is still a lot the State Government can do to protect the marine environment by ensuring "we have environmental protection in our coastal waters, but most importantly, in our port waters which are environmentally sensitive, to continue to deliver a cost-effective and efficient service to the shipping industry as the main user of port pilotage services."

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