Fatigue blamed in Great Barrier Reef grounding

Ship operators need to ensure that they have an appropriate process in place to properly manage the level of crew fatigue according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

The advice is a result of the ATSB's investigation into the April 3, 2010 grounding of Chinese bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 on Douglas Shoal, off the coast of Queensland near Gladstone.

In its final investigation report, released today, the ATSB found that the chief mate was affected by fatigue and this resulted in a decreased level of performance while he was monitoring Shen Neng 1's position. The report found that the ship did not have an effective fatigue management system in place to ensure that the bridge watchkeeper was fit to stand a navigational watch. (A watchkeeper is responsible for navigating the ship).

ATSB Chief Commissioner, Mr. Martin Dolan, said Shen Neng 1's grounding provides an important safety lesson for all seagoing vessels.

"Fatigue is one of the key safety risks facing seafarers, and watchkeepers in particular. Failure to manage fatigue can lead to loss of life, damage to property and damage to the environment," Mr. Dolan says. "The ATSB urges ship operators to comply with international requirements that ensure operators properly manage the hours of work and rest of watchkeepers."

The report also identifies several other safety issues relating to the accident:

  • The ship's safety management system did not contain procedures or guidance in relation to the proper use of passage plans, including electronic route plans.
  • In the 30 minutes leading up to the grounding, there were no visual cues to warn either the chief mate or the seaman on lookout duty, as to the underwater navigation hazards directly ahead of the ship.
  • At the time of the grounding, the protections afforded by the requirement for compulsory pilotage and active monitoring of ships by the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic Service (REEFVTS), were not in place in the sea area off Gladstone.


The report contains two safety recommendations addressed to Shen Neng 1's management company regarding the safety issues associated with fatigue management and passage planning. The report also acknowledges the safety action taken by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in relation to the extension of REEFVTS coverage to include the waters off Gladstone.

The final investigation report into the Shen Neng 1 grounding can be accessed HERE

April 14, 2011