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The German flag, 35,303 gross tonnes container ship Berlin Express, while proceeding in auto-pilot steering mode through the dredged cut, in the South Channel, Port Phillip Bay, en route to Melbourne, took a rapid sheer to starboard, as a result of which the ship grounded adjacent to South Channel Pile beacon.

Assisted by two tugs from the Port of Melbourne, the ship was successfully refloated 10 hours later, on the next high tide.

The ship suffered no structural damage, and no pollution occurred as a result of the grounding.


Berlin Express grounded as a result of a rapid sheer to starboard brought about by the rudder moving to starboard 20 degrees.

It is considered that:

  1. Although an autopilot human input error is the most straightforward and simplest explanation for the movement of the rudder to starboard 20 and cannot be totally discounted, such an error was unlikely.
  2. A momentary systems failure, either of the autopilot or the steering gear, was unlikely.
  3. Electrical radiation interference of the electronic control systems, from an outside source, was unlikely.
  4. Possibly no conceivable malfunction occurred, instead the movement of the rudder to starboard 20 was the response of the autopilot, under the programmed settings, to that particular set of circumstances.
  5. The speed of Berlin Express, on entering the cut, was around 18.5 knots.
  6. The effect of squat reduced the underkeel clearance as the ship passed between buoys 11 and 12 to 4.78m. As the ship sheered away from the centre line, this would have been reduced to about 2.75m, which would have had an adverse effect on the ship's manoeuvrability.
  7. Those on the bridge acted quickly and correctly, but were unable to prevent the grounding.
  8. At the speed at which Berlin Express was travelling, once the sheer commenced, grounding was unavoidable.
  9. Although regulation 339 of the Port of Melbourne Authority (Amendment) Regulations 1988 is no longer considered appropriate, had Berlin Express been proceeding at a much reduced speed for passage through the dredged cut, the lateral movement to starboard would not have been so great and, therefore, the grounding would have been less likely to happen.
  10. The movement of the rudder to starboard 20, the resultant sheer, and hence the grounding, would most probably not have occurred had the steering been conducted manually.
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