AMSA Advises Hookers

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Jul 092008

With the typhoon season getting well underway the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has issued anchoring guidelines to help masters avoid joining Pasha Bulker on the ‘Oops Roster’. They might also be useful to bear in mind when dropping the hook elsewhere in a storm.

The influence of the Pasha Bulker incident is apparent in the AMSA Marine Safety Notice. In addition to Pasha Bulker, several others vessels found themselves in trouble in the same storm in part because they had not taken on extra ballast to meet the weather conditions.

AMSA advises: “At all times ballast condition must be maintained so that the ship’s propeller is fully submerged and the vessel’s forward draught and trim are such that the requirements of the vessel’s stability book are maintained and forward slamming is prevented. In the event that deteriorating weather is forecast the Master must make a timely decision to take on heavy weather ballast before conditions become so extreme that ballasting becomes a risky operation.”

During the Pasha Bulker storm, several ships expected Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre, VTIC, to instruct them whether or not to leave the anchor and get underway but the VTIC didn’t have that authority. Says AMSA “The Master must assess the wind and sea conditions and get the vessel underway whenever necessary. He should not wait for instructions from the harbour VTS or port authority, whether in a designated anchorage within port limits or not, if the Master considers the safety of the ship requires such action.”

Where port authorities do not designate an anchorage AMSA reminds masters to take into account “Ample swinging room to be left from charted dangers and other vessels… Good holding ground must be sought whenever possible. Recommendations may be found in Admiralty Sailing Directions and commercially available port guides….An adequate amount of cable, based on a

published well-tried formula and the Master’s experience of the vessel, is to be veered.”

In line with the requirements of STCW, AMSA says: “It is absolutely essential that routines are in place so that the ship’s position is regularly checked. Use of GPS, ECS systems, bearings and radar ranges is recommended. Prevailing weather, predicted weather, tidal streams, proximity of land and traffic congestion at the anchorage must be taken in to account when specifying the position checking routine.”

Keep an eye on the weather and be aware of how vessels at anchor may be affected by local conditions. Says AMSA: “For example intense depressions may form in the Tasman Sea which engender galeforce winds and heavy seas off the south-east coast ports. Ports on the Queensland and north-west coasts are subject to tropical cyclones (typhoons) of extreme violence.

It is essential that the Master monitors current weather forecasts and warnings. Weather forecast

services are contained in the Admiralty List of Radio signals Vol 3 part 2. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology makes available coastal forecasts and warnings on their internet site:”

Because of the threast of sudden and unexpected extreme weather conditions, AMSA advises: “Ideally the main engines, steering gear, or windlass must not be dismantled or immobilised whilst at anchor as conditions may deteriorate at short notice. If defect rectification makes work on any of these machinery items essential, the situation should be advised to the harbour VTS for their information and on-forwarding to the relevant harbour master and/or port authority. Appropriate notice for sea will be required to mobilise machinery.”

Current AMSA notices can be downloaded here.

May 232008

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.