Marine safety investigations & reports

Grounding of the cargo vessel Ruca Challenge on Piper Reef

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 21 April 1987 at approximately 0710 ships time (0810 EST) the Cypriot registered cargo vessel "RUCA CHALLENGE" of 1587.46 gross tons on passage from Haifa, Israel to Cairns, Australia, via Singapore, with a cargo of potassium nitrate, ran aground on Piper Reef in position 12° 14' 80" S 143° 14' 40" E.

(Prior to the grounding the ship's time was UTC + 9 hours. The clocks were altered at noon 21 April, to align with Eastern Standard Time (EST) being UTC + 10 hours. All times given in this report are based on the 24 hour clock and are EST).

The vessel was refloated without external assistance at approximately 1700 on 21 April and, after establishing that the vessel was seaworthy, the Master continued the voyage to Cairns, berthing at 2030 on 23 April. No pollution resulted from the grounding.

Cargo was discharged on 24 and 26 April and the vessel sailed at 1350 on 26 April for Brisbane to complete discharge of the potassium nitrate. Off Fitzroy Island, the vessel anchored to allow a Lloyds Register classification surveyor, together with a diver, to make a kore detailed hull inspection in clear water. Some hull damage was noted, however the vessel was considered to be in a seaworthy condition and continued on passage to Brisbane.

After further inspection by Lloyds Register and on completion of discharge, the vessel sailed from Brisbane on 2 May 1987. Repairs were undertaken whilst in Brisbane and are due for completion at the next drydocking, in 1988.


  1. I find that the "RUCA CHALLENGE" went agrounf through errors in navigation in that the Chief Mate failed to correctly establish the vessel's position at regular intervals after 0617 on 21 April.
  2. Given the apparently conscientious plotting between 0400 and 0617 I was initially prepared to accept that the Chief Mate did continue to plot the vessel's position after 0617 and that these positions were subsequently erased. However he could give no clear and satisfactory indication of what islands, reefs or light structures he was using for navigational checks and was, as is shown in his statement, very much confused as to what reef was what or where. Therefore, I have to reject his claim that he did continue to properly plot the vessel's position.
  3. Given that no plotting of positions was apparently undertaken after 0617 and that the vessel was steering 170° (T) to make good a course of 175°, the course made good was in fact very close to 175° (T) allowing for the actions of the Chief mate in altering course to starboard for a short period prior to the grounding.
  4. Due to confusion in his mind the Chief mate did not properly establish the vessel's position. He offered no excuses and accepted that the vessel grounded as a result of his errors.
  5. No other person directly contributed towards the grounding.
  6. The actions taken by the Master in refloating the "RUCA CHALLENGE" were successful. However his initial action in trying to get the vessel off the reef before establishing the seaworthiness of the vessel does not show mature judgement of the circumstance after a grounding, despite being somewhat of a normal reaction.
  7. As he was unfamiliar with the passage inside the reef and the lack of a large scale chart of the area, the Master would have been more prudent to have utilized the services of a pilot of the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilot Service.
  8. In view of a pilot not being employed, the restricted passage width between Inset and Piper Reefs and the small scale chart in use, a more prudent master may have considered that his presence on the bridge was warranted.
  9. Subsequent to the grounding, the Master should have reported the incident to the Federal Department of Transport in accordance with the provisions of section 268 of the (Australian) Navigation Act 1912. This was not done and the Department of Transport's Sea Safety Centre was only advised of the incident when a passing vessel reported the "RUCA CHALLENGE" ashore on Piper Reef.
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[Download  PDF: 336KB]
General details
Date: 21 April 1987   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0810 EST    
Location: Great Barrier Reef    
State: Queensland    
Release date: 01 July 1987   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Ruca Challenge  
Flag Cypri  
IMO 7435149  
Type of operation Bulk carrier  
Damage to vessel Nil  
Departure point Haifa, Israel  
Departure time N/A  
Destination Cairns, Qld  
Last update 23 May 2016