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A leak in the main water ballast line in the engine room of the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Harmonic Progress led to the ship becoming disabled in the Coral Sea at 1230 on 16 April 2004, according to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation report released today.

The ATSB report into the disabling of Harmonic Progress states that the flow of water ballast into the engine room bilges was not sufficiently controlled before it reached a depth of 1.5 metres. At that depth, the water entered the motors for the main engines lubricating oil pumps and caused them to short circuit. The lack of lubricating oil prevented the main engine from being able to be operated, resulting in the ship drifting westward towards the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef for 43 hours before assistance arrived. The ship was in ballast, making for Hay Point when the incident occurred.

A harbour tug from Townsville and a large salvage tug from Brisbane were able to take Harmonic Progress in tow about 40 nautical miles from the Great Barrier Reef. Harmonic Progress was towed to the port of Gladstone, where initial repairs were undertaken in order to enable the ship to proceed under its own power to Brisbane. At Brisbane, the ship entered dry dock, where inspection, repair and testing of ballast valves and pumps took place. No one on board was injured during the incident and no pollution resulted.

The ATSB investigation report concludes that leaking valves in two water ballast tanks resulted in the main ballast line being pressurised following ballast water exchange operations which took place a week before the leak in the engine room was found. The report also concludes that the crew had failed to identify that a critical valve had been left open after the ballast water exchange when they were attempting to isolate the leak prior to the ship becoming disabled.

The entire ship's crew, with the exception of the chief engineer, had joined the vessel about two weeks before the flooding, when new owners and managers took over the ship. The crew were unfamiliar with the ballast system and did not use a systematic approach to find the source of the water leaking from the ballast line. In addition, the pre-delivery inspection of the ship prior to the change of ownership is suspected of being inadequate.

Copies of the report ( Marine Safety Investigation Report 202) can be downloaded from the website, or obtained from the ATSB by telephoning (02) 6274 6425 or 1800 020 616.

Media contact: 1800 020 616
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Last update 01 April 2011