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In November 1993, two reports of close quarter incidents were brought to the attention of the Inspector of Marine Accidents. In both cases the navigation of the two ships concerned was under the charge of pilots licensed for the Great Barrier Reef inner route. The four ships involved were "regulated" ships within the meaning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. Under the Act any ship over 70m, navigating the Reef between Cape York and Cairns (Low Isles), must take a duly licensed pilot.

The Inspector regarded the reports. as "incidents" in that each one was, on the face of it, an event as a result of which serious damage to a ship or the environment might reasonably have occurred and it was reasonably suspected that the safety of ships' personnel were imperilled.

Incident 1

On 2 November 1993, the south-bound Philippine flag bulk carrier Blossom Forever was slowly overtaking the Indian flag bulk carrier Pearl Prosperity in an area of the Great Barrier Reef where the maximum width of fairway reduced from about 1.5 miles to about 1 mile. The differential in speed meant that the overtaking manoeuvre would take about 45 minutes or about 10 miles to complete.

Both ships, in ballast en route for Hay Point, were of almost identical size, marginally over 180m in length, with deadweight tonnages of 38,852 tonnes and 34,554 tonnes respectively.

The two pilots had been in contact by VHF and it was mutually agreed that Blossom Forever would overtake on Pearl Prosperity's port side. The distance by radar between the two vessels reduced to 143m, with the overtaking vessel between 30 and 60 degrees on the Pearl Prosperity's port quarter. The Pearl Prosperity's Pilot considered that the vessel was unnecessarily close and the passing distance would be less than a cable (185m). The ship's master commented on the fact to the Pilot, who was becoming concerned. He therefore contacted the Pilot on board the Blossom Forever and suggested that he alter course away from the Pearl Prosperity.

The Blossom Forever's Pilot agreed and the distance between the ships increased and the passing manoeuvre was completed safely.

Incident 2

On 15 November 1993, the Liberian tanker Palm Monarch, of 81,282 tonnes deadweight, was overtaking the Australian bulk carrier Iron Shortland, of 107,140 tonnes deadweight. Both vessels were in ballast, each vessel being in excess of 225m in length. The two ships were in the same area of the Great Barrier Reef as the incident of 2 November, but in this case the vessels were north-bound, Iron Shortland bound for the Westem Australian port of Port Hedland and Palm Monarch for the offshore installation of Challis Venture.

Palm Monarch overtook Iron Shortland and the converging courses put the overtaking ship close ahead with both ships on course to pass to the east of Waterwitch Reef. The Master of Iron Shortland expressed concern at the closeness of the other ship and the Pilot altered the ship's course to port, to pass to the west of Waterwitch Reef and any potential risk of collision was averted.


  1. Having studied the available information, the Inspector is satisfied that the ships involved in the reported incidents were unnecessarily close, therefore close quarters incidents did occur and that it was reasonable to regard the reports as "incidents" within the meaning of the Regulations.
  2. Given that all ships were aware of the close quarter situation and all those on the respective ship's bridges were alert to the potential danger, the risk of collision, had a failure of machinery or steering gear occurred, was remote.
  3. Given the situation on the day, there was no compelling reason for ships to overtake in such close proximity.
  4. Although communications were established between the vessels involved and the passing manoeuvres discussed, the general level of planning and discussion of projected manoeuvres and courses was inadequate.
  5. Given the limits of the water available within the Great Barrier Reef, close quarter situations are bound to occur from time to time. Where vessels' speeds are close and the overtaking manoeuvre prolonged, the overtaken vessel should, in consultation with the overtaking ship, consider reducing engine revolutions to reduce the time of any close proximity.
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