Case Study 4.1: Pasha Bulker grounding, Newcastle, 8 June 2007
The investigation into the grounding of the Panamanian-registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker at Newcastle, New South Wales shows how the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is helping to enhance maritime safety. The ATSB's investigation report provides a comprehensive understanding of the events and issues associated with the incident. Importantly, the report offers answers as to why 49 of the 57 masters of ships anchored off Newcastle failed to take the safe option of heading to sea before the onset of the forecast gale. The report also explains why the consequences to Pasha Bulker were the most severe.
On 8 June 2007, extreme weather conditions were experienced off Newcastle. Serious difficulties were experienced by a number of ships in the Newcastle anchorage at the time, including a near grounding, a near collision and the high-profile grounding of Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach. Fortunately, there was no loss of life or pollution as a result of the incident.
The collection and interpretation of a vast amount of data was undertaken as part of the investigation, as well as in-depth research related to several specific issues. The masters of ships anchored off Newcastle at the time were surveyed in order to gain an understanding of what information they had and how this affected their decision making. The evidence obtained from Pasha Bulker's voyage data recorder included audio data which provided a record of local radio communications. ATSB examined other relevant aspects including the safety issues associated with the anchorage, local weather conditions, anchor holding power, water ballast and the queue of ships waiting to load. The logistics and processes involved in exporting coal from Newcastle were also examined.
The initial decisions made by Pasha Bulker's master not to take the ship to sea early and not to appropriately ballast it largely contributed to its grounding. These decisions were based on his inadequate knowledge of issues related to ballast, anchoring, local weather conditions and the limitations of the anchorage. After finally weighing anchor, he continued to make poor decisions as he became increasingly affected by fatigue, anxiety and overload. While a number of other masters made similar unwise initial decisions in the circumstances, their subsequent actions and decisions did not lead to the unfortunate outcome experienced by Pasha Bulker.
Of the 11 recommendations in the ATSB's investigation report, nine were issued to Newcastle Port Corporation (NPC). They address safety issues that had not been dealt with at the time of the report's release and relate to the operation of NPC's Vessel Traffic Information Centre. One recommendation, related to the size of the ship queue, was issued to the operator of Newcastle's coal loading terminals. A recommendation was also issued to Pasha Bulker's managers to address the inadequacies of the ship's safety management system. Four safety advisory notices were also issued to ship owners, operators and masters.
Pasha Bulker aground on Nobbys Beach, Newcastle (Photo ATSB)