May 23, 2008
ATSB reports on Pasha Bulker grounding
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found that the grounding of Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach on June 8. 2007 occurred despite a gale warning that should have prompted the master to ballast the ship for heavy weather and take it to sea. A number of other ships also failed to take to sea.
The ATSB has now issued its final report on the incident. Its investigation found that Pasha Bulker's master had an inadequate understanding of heavy weather ballast, anchor holding power and the limitations of the weather exposed anchorage of Newcastle, NSW.
The investigation also found that a number of other ships attempted to ride out the gale at anchor and the majority dragged their anchors. A number of masters did not appropriately ballast their ships and many did not understand Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre's purely advisory role, expecting that it would instruct or inform them to put to sea at an appropriate time. It was also found that the substantial ship queue increased the risks in the anchorage and resulted in another near grounding, a near collision and a number of close-quarters situations at the time.
On May 23, the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker anchored about two miles off the coast near Newcastle and joined the queue of 57 ships to wait its turn for loading coal. The ship was ballasted for the good weather conditions. Newcastle anchorage is suitable only in good weather and nautical publications contain warnings about the local weather conditions and recommend that masters put to sea before conditions become severe.
On the morning of June 7, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a gale warning for the area. Winds were expected to increase to 45 knots, with gusts up to 63 knots, after 0400 on 8 June with high seas and a heavy swell. At midday, Pasha Bulker's master deployed additional anchor cable and decided to monitor the weather and the ship's anchor position.
By midnight, the southeast wind was gusting to 30 knots and ships began dragging their anchors. Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre advised those ships that were dragging their anchors. Only seven ships had put to sea in the deteriorating weather while another had weighed anchor to berth in the port.
By 0600 on June 8, the wind was gusting to nearly 50 knots and Pasha Bulker was amongst 27 ships still at anchor. At 0637, when the master was certain that the anchor was dragging, he decided to weigh anchor. At 0748, the ship got underway and for more than an hour, moved in a northeast direction parallel to the coast about one mile away with the wind on its starboard bow.
At 0906, the master decided to alter course to put the wind on the ship's port bow and clear the coast in a southerly direction. The course change in the extreme weather was poorly controlled and Pasha Bulker's heading became south-westerly instead of south-southeast as intended. The ship then rapidly approached Nobbys Beach and the master's desperate attempt to turn the ship to starboard to clear the coast inevitably led to its grounding at 0951 with both anchors in their hawse pipes.
The ATSB says that safety actions have already been taken following the incident and it has issued a number of other recommendations and safety advisory notices with the aim of preventing similar incidents in the future.
Copies of the report can be downloaded from the ATSB's internet site at www.atsb.gov.au