Marine safety investigations & reports

Loss of Greek registered oil tanker Kirki en route to Kwinana

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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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 action.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The subsequent five fires were caused either by static electrical discharges or by the arcing of broken electrical cables.
  5. There is no evidence that the loading operation Jebel Dhanna contributed in anyway to the incident.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. The Master acted properly and in the best interests of his crew in evacuating the bulk of the crew from the ship.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. The Master did not initiate adequate direct communications with the shore authorities.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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 time.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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 performed effectively.
  19. 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 cause.
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General details
Date: 21 July 1991   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: N/A    
Location: Nth of Fremantle    
State: Western Australia    
Release date: 02 April 1992   Occurrence category: Serious Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Kirki  
Flag Greec  
Type of operation Oil tanker  
Damage to vessel Destroyed  
Departure point Arabian Gulf  
Departure time N/A  
Destination Kwinana, WA  
Last update 18 May 2016