Marine safety investigations & reports

Grounding on a submerged rock MV Cape Pillar

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 21 January 1984, Cape Pillar, an Australian Government navigation aids support vessel, was engaged in bathymetric survey work at the eastern extremity of the Recherche Archipelago, southern Western Australia. The survey required the vessel to run parallel courses on headings of 150º and 330º, 3000m apart, between the 300m depth contour and the shoreline. A survey boat was utilised for the insg\hore portion of the survey, where it was too shallow for cape Pillar to proceed with safety.

At 1158, Cape Pillar commenced a survey run on the 150º heading, but as this survey line passed through Cooper Island, when the vessel was 1.1 miles from the island, course was altered to 060º, to take the vessel to the previous survey line. Shortly after the helm was put to starboard, to bring the vessel back to the 150º heading on the previous survey line, the echo sounder showed rapid shoaling of the seabed. The helm was put hard to port, but shortly afterwards Cape Pillar struck a submerged object. A few minutes later, three rock pinnacles were seen close by, about two metres below the surface.

The hull plating was ruptured in way of the cargo hold and adjacent double bottom tank, both of which flooded. The Master took the vessel to anchorage in Goose Island Bay, where portable salvage pumps were delivered to the vessel and a Navy damage control team boarded to provide assistance. The vessel was eventually able to proceed to Esperance and then onto Fremantle.


Cape Pillar struck an uncharted rock pinnacle.

The incident could have been avoided had an aerial reconnaissance been conducted beforehand and had the vessel been equipped with a forward scanning sonar.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 263KB]
General details
Date: 21 January 1984   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: N/A    
Location: SW Australia    
State: Western Australia    
Release date: 01 July 1984   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Cape Pillar  
Flag Aus  
IMO D0001  
Type of operation Special-purpose vessel  
Damage to vessel Minor  
Departure point Esparance, WA  
Departure time N/A  
Destination Salisbury Island, WA  
Last update 18 May 2016