On the evening of 20 July 1991, the Greek. registered oil tanker
Kirki (call sign SVRVV) was about 55 miles off the Western
Australian coastal centre of Cervantes on passage from the Arabian
Gulf to Kwinana with a cargo of approximately 82,660 tonnes of
light crude oil. The weather was severe, with rough seas, heavy
swell and southerly force 8 winds increasing in intensity.
At about 2000 Western Australia Standard Time, it was observed
that the vessel had a pronounced trim by the head and the ship's
speed was reduced and course altered to put the prevailing weather
on a more comfortable quarter. On investigation it was established
that the fore-peak ballast tank, which should have been effectively
dry, had water in it, apparently to sea level. Attempts to pump the
fore-peak did not succeed in lowering the water level and it became
obvious that the fore-peak was open to the sea.
At about 0220 (UTC 1820) approximately 22 miles from the coast,
in very rough seas and heavy swell, the bow was seen to break away
from the ship just forward of No 1 oil cargo tanks. Simultaneously
a fire erupted, from a rupture in the forward bulkhead of No 1
cargo tanks fuelled by highly volatile crude oil, and oil was lost
to the sea. The engines were immediately stopped. Distress calls
were broadcast and the crew was mustered at the port (leeward)
lifeboat. After about 15 minutes the fire forward went out,
extinguished by the action of the sea.
At 0302 (1902 UTC) Perth Marine Communications Station monitored
a "Mayday" message followed by a two-tone alarm, from the Kirki.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Maritime Rescue
Coordination Centre was alerted, and measures were put in place to
evacuate the crew by helicopter. The off-shore support vessel Lady
Kathleen responded by sailing for the casualty and the Western
Australian Marine Emergency Operations Centre dispatched the State
Department of Marine and Harbours vessel Vigilant. The National
Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea (the National Plan) was
activated and the Marine Emergency Centre became the coordination
headquarters for the State Committee of the National Plan.
During the ensuing hours the fire broke out from the Kirki's
forward area on a further five occasions, each time being
extinguished by the sea.
Helicopters arrived at first light and the evacuation of the
crew, in relays to the nearest land, began at 0713 and was
completed at 1156.
At 1040 the Lady Kathleen arrived at the casualty. At about 1430
the Lady Kathleen succeeded in securing a tow line to the Kirki's
stern. The Kirki was then towed offshore while an assessment of the
situation and decisions were taken as to the best course of
The Lady Kathleen was relieved of the tow by the offshore vessel
Lady Elizabeth on 25 July and, over the next 14 days, the Kirki was
towed to an area west-north-west of Dampier, where the remaining
cargo was to be transferred to another tanker. On 25 July and again
between 3 and 6 August, in high seas and heavy swell, two further
quantities of oil were lost.
On 19 August, the remaining cargo and the bulk of the fuel oil
was discharged in a ship-to-ship transfer in an area to seaward of
the Monte Bello Islands and the Dampier Archipelago. A total of
64,372 tonnes of cargo and 1290 tonnes of heavy fuel oil were
transferred, leaving approximately 600 tonnes of crude oil aboard
the Kirki. The ship was subsequently towed to Singapore.
About 17,700 tonnes of crude oil was lost.
Note: all times are given in Western
Australian Standard Time (Universal Coordinated time + 8 hours),
unless otherwise indicated.
The Inspector concludes:
- The flooding of the fore-peak tank on the evening of 20 July,
was due either to a failure in the ship's shell plating forward of
frame 93, or the shearing of the fore peak ballast pipeline at the
shell plating on the port side.
- It is not possible to be precise as to the cause of the
structural failure forward of frame 93 (the bow). It was either due
to the action of sea water, which had flooded the fore-peak,
impinging heavily in the area of frame 93, which led to an overload
on the structure, or to a loss of bow plating. Either one or a
combination of these factors led to excessive stress on an area of
the ship's structure already weakened by corrosion and the effects
of repair work.
- The source of the ignition causing the original fire was either
sparks caused by the mechanical action of the tearing of the steel
work, or the arcing of broken electrical cables forward.
- The subsequent five fires were caused either by static
electrical discharges or by the arcing of broken electrical
- There is no evidence that the loading operation Jebel Dhanna
contributed in anyway to the incident.
- Any stress to the ship's hull caused by maintaining propeller
revolutions at 95 rpm through the gales of 4 to 6 July and in the
sea conditions of 18 to 20 July was to an area already weakened
structurally. It would have been prudent to reduce the revolutions
in such weather.
- The Master acted properly in putting the wind and sea on the
starboard quarter, on the evening of 20jtdy, when it became
apparent that the fore-peak tank was breached.
- The Master acted properly and in the best interests of his crew
in evacuating the bulk of the crew from the ship.
- After the evacuation of the bulk of the crew, the Master failed
to make a realistic assessment of the situation. The risk to life
would have been minimal had a skeleton crew remained to secure a
tow and assist the Salvage Master.
- In evacuating the ship, the crew did not significantly increase
the risk of fire by leaving the B and W Holeby generator operating.
They were prudent in closing down the boilers.
- The use of alcohol and/or drugs was not a factor in the conduct
of the Master or crew in responding to the fire and during
evacuation of the ship.
- The Master did not initiate adequate direct communications with
the shore authorities.
- The discharge of oil into the sea was as a result of the damage
to the ship. Mayamar Marine Enterprises responded immediately, in
engaging United Salvage Ltd, to minimise the discharge and effects
of possible pollution.
- The Kirki carried all necessary statutory safety certificates.
Safety surveys had been carried out within the schedules required
by the relevant international safety conventions. The scheduling of
the Kirki's special five-year survey at 22 years, rather than at 20
years, was consistent with the ship's survey program and within the
rules covering the frequency of special surveys.
- The defects in the life-saving appliances, fire-fighting
equipment, cargo equipment and the condition of engine room
equipment were so numerous and of such a nature that the Inspector
cannot accept that they all developed over a short period of
- The patching with canvas and the camouflaging of No7 tank lids
was a deliberate attempt to mislead any person undertaking a load
line survey. It is not possible to determine when the lids were
patched, and it might not have been done with the knowledge of the
owners or those on board the Kirki on 21 July 1991.
- Significant defects should have been observed during surveys by
Germanischer Lloyd; inspections by BP Vetting and Mayamar Marine
Enterprises; and under Port State inspections by the Australian
Maritime Safety Authority.
- Germanischer Lloyd was responsible for the issue of statutory
certificates on behalf of the Hellenic Republic of Greece. The
procedures adopted by the Society during structural surveys failed
to identify the areas of localised corrosion. The condition of
ballast tanks 13 and 14 together with the number and nature of
deficiencies in safety equipment, indicates that a number of
surveys over a period of time, including surveys that were
conducted under international safety conventions, were not
- The prompt action by the Master and crew of the Lady Kathleen
stabilised the situation by preventing the tanker from drifting
closer to the shore, where it would have stranded, and allayed
immediate concern as to the damage that it and its cargo might