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An execution error by the helmsman of a ship led to a ship running aground in Sydney Harbour. The Maltese registered general cargo ship Tauranga Chief ran aground on a mud/sand patch just south of Bradleys Head light in the middle of Sydney Harbour at 0339 in the morning of 17 January 2003.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation report released today states that the ship arrived at Sydney Heads at 0300 on 17 January 2003 and a harbour pilot boarded. The pilot took charge of the conduct of the ship and it continued into the harbour toward its White Bay berth. During a series of wheel orders when the ship was rounding Bradleys Head, the helmsman put the helm the wrong way. This was the first step toward the grounding.

The report concludes that the helmsman's error was possibly due to fatigue effects caused by his long flight from Russia to join the ship a day and a half earlier. The concentration and reaction time of the master and officer of the watch, who also joined the ship on 15 January, may have also been affected.

The fact that the pilot did not order 'midships' before ordering counter rudder during the turn may also have been a contributing factor.

The ship was refloated using tugs, the ship's anchor and main engine after being aground about half an hour. Tauranga Chief continued to its berth where divers checked the ship's hull externally for any damage, while it was alongside the wharf for cargo operations.

Only slight, localised scratching of the underwater paintwork on the bottom of the hull under the bulbous bow and around the forward end of the hull was reported after the divers inspection.

No injuries or pollution resulted from the grounding.

The full investigation report is available from the Bureau's website, or from the Bureau on request.

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Last update 01 April 2011