Avoiding action must be early and effective

The ATSB is highlighting the importance of vessels taking early and effective avoiding action and keeping a proper lookout.

Saxon Onward, alongside in Eden

The ATSB’s investigation into the collision of a container ship and a fishing vessel reflects an ongoing problem on the Australian coast ­– collisions between small vessels and trading ships.

This serious incident occurred in the Tasman Sea on 23 January 2018, in the very early hours of the morning. The visibility was clear and the seas were calm, with a south-westerly wind up to 10 knots. The container ship Beijing Bridge was en route to Melbourne from Taiwan while the fishing vessel Saxon Onward was northbound for Eden, New South Wales. 

The vessels had been aware of each other’s presence well before the collision took place. About 45 minutes before the collision, Saxon Onward’s watchkeeper had sighted the masthead lights and green sidelight of an approaching ship (Beijing Bridge) on the starboard bow. Meanwhile, the third officer of Beijing Bridge was the officer of the watch and the sole lookout on that vessel’s navigational bridge. He had seen Saxon Onward, along with another fishing vessel, and both vessels were acquired on Beijing Bridge’s radar.

…These are measures that every ship needs to be taking.

As the two vessels closed on each other, they both realised that risk of collision existed and both took action. Beijing Bridge’s course alteration was not substantial, not made in good time, and actually increased the risk of a collision. Saxon Onward made a substantial course alteration, but it was made too late and resulted in the collision. Saxon Onward collided with Beijing Bridge, with the trawler’s port bow impacting the ship’s starboard side. As the trawler scraped down the ship’s side, the skipper stopped the engine and the crew mustered in the wheelhouse.

Beijing Bridge showing surface damage to the hull on the starboard side
Beijing Bridge showing surface damage to the hull on the starboard side. Source AMSA
Source: Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

There were no injuries or pollution reported by either vessel. Saxon Onward suffered substantial damage to its hull but was able to make its way unassisted to the nearby port of Eden. Beijing Bridge resumed its passage and berthed in Melbourne later the same day.

ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood said since 1990, the ATSB have conducted investigations into 39 collisions, with most seeing a recurring type of occurrence.

“Trading ships and small vessels are continuing to collide with each other off the Australian coast,” Mr Hood said.

“Thankfully, this incident did not result in anyone being harmed, but the potential for more serious consequences is concerning.

“Every ship needs to take early and effective action to avoid other vessels and maintain a proper lookout – which is a requirement under international regulations.”

Read the final report, MO-2018-002: Collision between Beijing Bridge and Saxon Onward, off Gabo Island, Victoria, on 23 January 2018.

Further information:
The ATSB has previously published safety bulletins, Safety Bulletin 01 - Ships and Fishing vessels and Safety Bulletin 05 - Fisherman and Safety Awareness at Sea, aimed at highlighting the risks faced by fishing vessels and raising awareness of the common contributory factors present in these collisions.

Last update 16 November 2018