The ATSB has found that the grounding of Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach on 8 June 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 Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation found that Pasha Bulker‘s master had an inadequate understanding of heavy weather ballast, anchor holding power and the limitations of Newcastle’s weather exposed anchorage.
The safety management system on board Pasha Bulker did not provide the master with specific guidance about safely putting to sea in adverse weather. Neither the masters standing orders nor the passage plan form prescribed in the safety management system contained any guidance with regard to bridge resource or team management or encouraged its use.
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.
Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centres advisory role “was not properly understood by the masters of a number of the ships in the Newcastle anchorage on 7 June 2007” says the ATSB.
On 23 May, 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 7 June, 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.
Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre did not cancel the scheduled berthing of any ship even after weather conditions had become severe. This may have compounded the confusion of some masters about the appropriate time to leave the anchorage. Advice was limited to the masters of only those ships that were dragging their anchors. Some masters assumed, incorrectly, that the appropriate time to weigh anchor was when the centre informed them that their anchor was dragging and may have waited for this guidance to leave the anchorage.
The masters of four ships were rerquested to leave the anchorage at a very late stage, when the weather conditions were extreme and just before Pasha Bulker grounded. The masters of several ships, including Pasha Bulker, had expected the centre to provide them with similar guidance earlier, when weather conditions warranted, enabling them to safely clear the coast.
On 8 June , one ship fouled its anchor on a discarded anchor cable which delayed it from safely putting to sea. At least 40 discarded anchors and cables lie on the seabed in the Newcastle anchorage but most are not charted. The position of some of these hazards and the approximate location of others is known to Newcastle Port Corporation. Such information could be used by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, New South Wales Maritime and the Australian Hydrographic Service to take the necessary action to enhance maritime safety.
By 0600 , 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.
Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre asked the masters of three ships, including Pasha Bulker, to leave the restricted area off the ports entrance. Given that all three ships were struggling to clear the coast and that there was no need to keep the area clear because there was no traffic into or out of the port, these communications were of no benefit and unnecessary, and may also have adversely influenced the decisions of masters, including Pasha Bulker‘s.
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 but has issued a number of other recommendations and safety advisory notices with the aim of preventing similar incidents in the future.