The ATSB has found that a misunderstanding between the master and pilot, and the lack of planning by the ship's crew were contributing factors in the grounding of the Liberian flagged general cargo ship Mellum on 28 September 2004.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation found the master/pilot information exchange was deficient, and that the insets and scales of the navigation chart in use may have contributed to the grounding.

At 1124 Australian Central Standard Time on 28 September, the general cargo ship Mellum let go from the wharf at Thevenard and headed to sea with a pilot on board. The sky was overcast and there was occasional light rain, but visibility was good. The wind was from the southeast at about five knots and the tide was flooding at about one knot.

At about 1217, the ship cleared Yatala Channel beacons one and two at a speed of about seven knots. Shortly thereafter, with the entrance beacon on the starboard bow, the pilot informed the master that he intended to disembark as they had earlier agreed. The master moved to the bridge wing and watched as the pilot disembarked the ship. He then returned to the wheelhouse and ordered the helmsman to steer a course of 222 by gyro compass.

The master soon noticed that the ship was to the south of the intended track and ordered a course of 225. At 1233, before this last order could be executed, the ship grounded just south of the entrance beacon.

The master stopped the main engine and then tried various manoeuvres to free the ship. He then called the pilot boat to request assistance. At 1320, the pilot reboarded the ship. Ballast water was moved and discharged from the ship to lighten it and change the trim.

Manoeuvres with the assistance of a local tug were carried out when the rising tide allowed, and at 2309 the pilot reported that the ship was afloat.

At 1500 on 30 September the detention order that had been issued after the grounding was lifted when the ship had been checked for damage and seaworthiness. At 1606, Mellum weighed anchor and sailed for Melbourne.

The ATSB has made a safety recommendation to Flinders Ports in relation to pilot training with the aim of preventing further incidents of this type.

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Last update 23 May 2016