Accident details: At a glance

  • Type of accident: Grounding
  • Vessel(s) involved: Pasha Bulker (bulk carrier)
  • Date: 8 June 2007
  • Place: Nobbys Beach, Newcastle, Australia
  • Fatalities: None
  • Pollution: No significant environmental pollution was reported.

The incident

On 8 June 2007 at 0500, the Panamanian-registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker was anchored 2.4 miles off the coast near Newcastle. The wind was strong gale force with 8 m high seas and 41 ships were at anchor.

Pasha Bulker’s master observed the deteriorating conditions and continued to monitor the ship’s position. At 0625, Pasha Bulker started dragging its anchor in the severe weather and the Master decided to weigh anchor.

At 0748, when the ship was underway, there were still 11 ships at anchor. The master turned the ship away from the coast, now only 1.2 miles away.

On its initial east-southeast heading, with the wind and heavy seas fine on the starboard bow, the ship’s course made good was in an east-northeasterly direction, parallel to the coast.

At 0906, Pasha Bulker’s master altered course to put the wind on the port bow in an attempt to make good a southerly course. The alteration was poorly controlled and the ship’s heading became south-westerly instead of south-southeast as he had intended.

With the severe weather now on its port beam, the ship started moving west, towards the coast. The main engine speed was increased to assist the turn to port, into the wind, but this had limited success.

 

 

At 0927, as the ship approached the coast, VTIC offered assistance. The master declined the offer and soon after, began a turn to starboard. The ship began rapidly closing on Nobbys Beach, now only eight cables away.

The turn was unsuccessful and at 0946, when grounding was imminent, the master requested assistance. At 0951, Pasha Bulker grounded on Nobbys Beach.

The ship’s momentum carried it further onto rock ledges on the beach and its hull was breached but there was no pollution. The ship was hard aground and the master requested a crew evacuation. By 1330, all of the crew had been safely winched off by a rescue helicopter.

At 2138 on 2 July, Pasha Bulker was refloated successfully. On 26 July, after completing temporary repairs in Newcastle, the ship was taken in tow, bound for Vietnam to undergo permanent repairs.

 

Read in this series

Probable causes

The official investigation report by ATSB highlights:

  • The master’s inadequate understanding of heavy weather ballast, the holding power of the ship’s anchor, local weather conditions or the limitations of the Newcastle anchorage in adverse weather.

The master continued to ignore signs that a dangerous situation was developing and subsequently became affected, to varying degrees, by fatigue, anxiety, overload and panic.

  • The master’s management of the available bridge resources onboard Pasha Bulker was poor. There was no effective planning and little communication between the master and the mates on the bridge. As such, the mix of fatigue, anxiety and uncertainty was aggravated by the fact that he had little effective support from the bridge team as indicated by the communications on the bridge.

Consequently, once the decision was made to leave the anchorage, the ship’s progress and its response to the master’s helm orders, were inadequately monitored. This was evident in the failure of the course alteration at 0906 when the ship’s poor response to the helmsman’s rudder inputs was not detected in time to prevent the course overshoot.

  • The safety management system onboard Pasha Bulker did not provide the master with specific guidance about safely putting to sea in adverse weather. Neither the master’s standing orders nor the passage plan form prescribed in the SMS contained any guidance with regard to bridge resource or team management or encouraged its use.

 

Bad decisions as a result from Captain’s fatigue, anxiety, overload and panic

  • Failing to ballast the ship appropriately for the forecast heavy weather.
  • Failing to leave the anchorage at an appropriately early stage.
  • Not preparing appropriately for the emergency deployment of the anchors and not deploying the anchors.
  • Conning the ship inappropriately at critical times, including ordering the 20º course alteration to put the ship’s head through strong gale force winds without controlling the turn himself by giving appropriate rudder orders or monitoring the helm subsequently.
  • Attempting the final turn to starboard towards the lee shore that was less than a mile away.

Liability

Despite report findings, Australia did not press charges against the master, because negligence could not be proved "beyond reasonable doubt".

 

Lessons learned

The incident highlighted issues regarding poor safety management and inadequate bridge resource management. During its investigation, ATSB gave special attention to the lack of guidance with regard to bridge resource or team management in the passage plan and advised owners and operators to consider the safety implications of this issue.

ISM breach in a nutshell

The ship’s SMS did not provide Master with any specific guidance with regard to safely putting to sea in adverse weather or general guidance about the risks at a weather exposed anchorage. The master’s standing orders posted on the bridge, in a standard format copied from the ship’s SMS, made no mention of BRM and nothing in the orders encouraged the use of recognized BRM techniques such as challenge and response.

Fatigue was also indicated as a contributory factor. The master had been awake most of the night monitoring the weather - he had had only two hours of sleep in the 24 hours- so “his later actions and decisions may have been influenced to some degree by fatigue. 

Other issues related to the role of Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre regarding the fact that several Masters of the anchored ships had not properly understood its weather advisories at that day, as well as the fact that its assistance to Pasha Bulker was kind of late.

 

Explore more in the official investigation report:


Did you know?

  • In 1974, the large bulk carrier Sygna grounded at Newcastle anchorage in a very similar way with Pasha Bulker.
  • While aground, the Pasha Bulker was even listed for sale on eBay attracting bids up to $16 million, as “it could be converted to a hotel, floating restaurant, casino or retirement village.”
  • In 2008, Pasha Bulker was renamed ‘Drake’ and returned to service.