The ATSB has found that a leakage of dangerous goods on board the Liberian registered container ship Kota Pahlawan, off the coast of Australia, on 16 June 2006, occurred because the dangerous goods were not packaged properly.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation found that packaging deficiencies in similar past shipments of xanthates, the dangerous goods being shipped, were commonplace but not reported. It was also found that Kota Pahlawan transited the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef Inner Route before authorities made an appropriate risk assessment.

On the morning of 16 June, a foul odour was found to be coming from two containers of xanthates on board Kota Pahlawan. Xanthates, on contact with moisture, produce foul smelling, highly flammable and toxic carbon disulphide vapours and can spontaneously combust. Duct tape was used to seal the containers' doors and the master reported the incident to the ship's manager.

In the evening on 16 June, the master informed the ship's charterer that the packaging of the xanthates was not vapour-tight in accordance with international rules. He demanded that the containers be unloaded in Brisbane, the next port.

At 0411 on Sunday 18 June, a few hours before entering the Torres Strait, Kota Pahlawan's master reported the emission of odours to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). At 0720, the ship embarked a coastal pilot for its transit of the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef Inner Route.

At 0907 on Monday 19 June, AMSA issued a defect report for Kota Pahlawan and notified relevant areas within AMSA and Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ). Both AMSA and MSQ then started collecting more information to make a risk assessment.

On 22 June, the ship berthed in Brisbane after an emergency was declared and exclusion zones were established. Emergency services attending the ship had confirmed a dangerous goods leakage. All eight xanthates containers on board the ship were unloaded and purged with nitrogen gas.

On 24 June, the emergency services declared the purged containers to be fit for transport and Kota Pahlawan's master was asked to reload them. The master agreed to reload the containers after AMSA provided its written acceptance.

On 25 June, Kota Pahlawan sailed from Brisbane with an emergency services scientific officer aboard to monitor the xanthates containers. The ship continued its voyage to Sydney, Bell Bay and Fremantle where the last of the containers were discharged on 6 July.

The ATSB report includes safety actions already taken and a number of recommendations and safety advisory notices with the aim of preventing similar incidents in the future.

Copies of the report can be downloaded from the ATSB's internet site at

Media contact: 1800 020 616
Last update 01 April 2011