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The engineers placed themselves in danger to save a ship in gale force weather conditions in Bass Strait after its main engine became disabled according to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation report released today. The ATSB report states that the Hong Kong registered container ship, Maersk Tacoma, spent 19 hours adrift before being taken in tow on 8 August 2001.

The incident is still the subject of legal action in London between the ship's owners and various other parties. The ATSB waited for 34 months to obtain the engineering report from the owner's representatives on the main engine failure.

Maersk Tacoma had departed Melbourne in the afternoon of 7 August 2001 heading to Brisbane. In the early hours of 8 August one of the ship's main engine bottom end bearings failed which left the ship drifting in Bass Strait in deteriorating westerly weather conditions. After being informed of the situation, the ship's management company in Hong Kong implemented their emergency response plan to arrange the salvage of the ship.

While awaiting the towing vessel, Maersk Tacoma drifted 45 miles eastward passing very close to both Cutter Rock and the Hogan group of islands. On both occasions the damaged main engine had to be run for short periods to prevent the ship from grounding. By 2125 on 8 August, Pacific Conqueror, an offshore towing and supply vessel based in Gippsland, had taken the ship in tow. By the following afternoon, the ship had been towed to a safe anchorage on the eastern side of Wilson's Promontory.

The ATSB report concludes that main engine was disabled when the main engine bottom end bearing failed as a result of its pre-existing condition in combination with reduced lubricating oil flow. It also concludes that Maersk Tacoma's engineers placed themselves in significant danger by running the damaged main engine to save the ship on two occasions and that Australian authorities should have been notified of the ship's situation sooner.

The report recommends that ship owners and operators should ensure that they have procedures for notifying local rescue coordination authorities promptly if their ship becomes disabled.

Copies of the report (Marine Safety Investigation Report 171) can be downloaded from the website.

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Last update 01 April 2011