At 0320 West Australian time, 14 February 1991, the Panama registered bulk carrier Sanko Harvest grounded in shoal water between Hastings Island and Hood Island, in position 34°07.4' South, 122°05.1' East, approximately 19 miles south south east of Esperance while on passage from Tampa, USA, via Cristobal, Panama, to Esperance, West Australia, loaded with 30,791 tonnes of fertiliser.
No person was killed or injured as a result of the grounding but extensive bottom damage was sustained from the impact with the reef, resulting in the release of heavy bunker oil from the double bottom fuel tanks. The National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil was activated by 0600 14 February.
From the 14 February onwards, the condition of the ship deteriorated, being in a position exposed to the prevailing weather and swell, resulting in the progressive breach of further tanks and cargo holds. On the advice of the ship's owners the Sanko Harvest was evacuated by the crew, for their safety, at 1655 15 February. The ship broke into three sections and sank during the night of 17/18 February.
Captain CW Filor, Inspector of Marine Accidents, undertook an investigation into the circumstances leading to the incident with the object of identifying the cause.
- The measurements of depth, dimensions, and quantities of cargo and fuel are expressed in metric measurement.
- Distances are expressed in nautical miles (1853.18 metres).
- Times are expressed in 24 hour notation in local ship time. On 14 February this was Western Australian Time (UTC+8).
- All courses and bearings are expressed in 360° notation relative to true north.
- Depths shown on chart extracts from charts Aus 4709 and Aus 119 are shown in metres; and from BA 1059 and BA 3189 in fathoms.
The inspector concludes that the grounding of the Sanko Harvest was caused by:
- The lack of appreciation by the Master and Second Officer (and other officers who were aware of the planned approach to Esperance) of the warnings contained on the charts and Australian Sailing Directions, Volume 1.
- The failure of the Second Officer to properly apply the available corrections to the charts of the area, in particular his failure to enter small correction Aus 219 of Admiralty Notices to Mariners, weekly edition 20 of 21 May 1988, which described the geographical location of the shoal water upon which the Sanko Harvest grounded;
- The Master's decision to navigate in an area where acceptable hydrographic surveys were either incomplete or had not been undertaken;
- The ship had on board the appropriate charts, notices to mariners and other publications to allow safe navigation;
- Had the charts held on board, particularly Aus 119, BA 3189 and BA 1059, been properly corrected, they would have provided proper and reliable navigational information;
- The 1990 edition of chart Aus 119 was not available to the Master and hence the outcome of the voyage had the ship been in possession of this edition is not an issue;
- The grounding was caused by human failure alone. Neither the cargo, nor the mechanical equipment, nor navigational equipment contributed to the incident;
- Neither the master nor the Second Officer were in any way under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- There is no evidence that fatigue was a contributing factor.