Ship groundings spark safety probe

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will undertake a high level safety investigation into coastal pilotage operations after 3 ships run aground

Ship groundings spark safety probe
Ship groundings spark safety probe

December 17, 2010

A series of ship groundings off Queensland since 1999 has prompted the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to undertake a high level safety investigation into coastal pilotage operations.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) says the investigation follows
on the
7 February 2009 grounding of the petrol laden tanker Atlantic Blue on Kirkcaldie Reef in the Torres Strait.

ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan says the maritime safety watchdog decided to conduct a broader safety investigation to address information that came to light during the Atlantic Blue investigation as well as earlier, similar investigations.

"The Atlantic Blue investigation is one in a number of cases where we received reports from coastal pilots raising concerns about the safety of coastal pilotage operations," Dolan says.

The investigation into the grounding found that Atlantic Blue's bridge team had not effectively monitored the ship's progress in the shipping route.

In particular, there was no allowance for the prevailing strong wind and tidal stream. This resulted in the ship deviating from its planned track.

Subsequent adjustments to the course were inadequate and could not prevent it grounding off Kirkcaldie Reef. Atlantic Blue's hull remained intact, there was no pollution and the ship refloated on the next flood tide.

Following an inspection, authorities permitted the ship to continue its voyage to Townsville.

In another case in July 2002, the Doric Chariot hit Piper Reef, off the east coast of Cape York when the marine pilot fell asleep.

In this instance, an ATSB investigation found the pilot was likely to have been experiencing "a significant level of fatigue", resulting from his personal and work-related activities.

On May 17, 1999, the cargo ship New Reach, carrying a full cargo of sugar, ran aground on Heath Reef after leaving Cairns the same day.

The ATSB found that ship had strayed from where it should have been and the pilot's navigation was based on insufficient information, faulty analysis and inexperience.

"Findings from the Atlantic Blue investigation and the two previous groundings in the Great Barrier Reef, along with numerous reports from coastal pilots about safety concerns indicate that significant safety issues may exist in coastal pilotage," Dolan says.

Dolan says the significant amount of cargo traded through ports along Australia’s east coast makes shipping vital for the local and national economies.

"Coastal pilotage is the most important defence in place to reduce the risk of a shipping incident in the particularly sensitive Great Barrier Reef environment," he says.

"Therefore, the safest possible coastal pilotage operations will benefit all industry stakeholders.

"A broad, systemic, ATSB safety issue investigation could identify issues that can make this objective more likely and improve safety and public confidence,"
Dolan says.

The investigation will focus on the safety management of pilotage operations, particularly the piloting procedures and practices of coastal pilots, including related motivational factors.

Specific areas of existing safety management systems to be looked at will include pilot training and professional development, passage planning, standard piloting procedures.

It will include incident reporting, collision avoidance and the management of pilots’ working hours.

The investigation will also examine the effectiveness of the coastal pilotage regulations, the pilotage safety management code and the pilot assessment system in supporting safe and efficient pilotage operations.

"Our systemic safety investigation will take around 12 months to complete," Dolan says.

"During this time, we'll gather information from pilots, pilotage providers, regulators and other stakeholders and analyse that information to see if any steps can be taken to enhance the safety of the pilotage system."

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