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One seaman died and another was severely injured when a large wave broke over the bow of the container vessel Aotearoa Chief on 14 August 2004, according to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation report released today.

The ATSB report into the incident states that the Hong Kong registered Aotearoa Chief disembarked its harbour pilot at about 6 pm, shortly after the ship had cleared the entrance to Melbournes Port Philip Bay. The master then ordered an alteration of course to take the ship away from the coast. While on this new course, an abnormal wave broke over the forecastle head, where three crew members were working to secure the ships anchors for the intended voyage to Sydney. One man was thrown against the mooring machinery and suffered injuries from which he later died. Another sustained severe lacerations to one leg and the third man was unhurt.

The report concludes that the instruction given by the master to the crew members to secure the pilot ladder and anchors on the forecastle head was not clear in conveying his claimed intent for the crew only to secure the pilot ladder and not to go forward to the anchors until the master was satisfied it was safe to do so

The report also concludes that a strong southerly wind, combined with an opposing ebb tide and shoaling waters, probably caused an 'abnormal wave' which was larger than ones either preceding or following.

The report mentions a similar occurrence which happened off the NSW port of Newcastle in January 2005. This incident, with a number of similarities, occurred on board the Cyprus registered bulk carrier Nordrhine, and resulted in the death of another seaman.

Copies of the report ( Marine Safety Investigation Report 206)can be downloaded from the ATSB website.

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Last update 01 April 2011