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On 14 February 1994, while Searoad Mersey was sailing from Grassy Harbour and making the turn around Grassy Island, fog obscured the leading marks which when in line indicate the centre line of the main channel. The Master continued his manoeuvre onto the correct course, but the ship made contact with the northern end of Omagh Reef.

Although the hull was penetrated in way of three ballast tanks, once the situation had been stabilised the ship was able to continue its voyage to Melbourne.

The Master had been appointed to the ship at short notice and had little experience of the port, where masters have to do their own pilotage. With the leading marks obscured, there were no other visual aids to indicate the ship's location with respect to the centre of the 150m wide channel.


It is considered that the contact with Omagh Reef was brought about by a combination of a number of factors, the most important being:

1. The obscuring by fog of the Grassy Harbour front and rear lead marks, these being the only visual aid to indicate a ship's position relative to the centre of she departure channel.

2. The Master's lack of experience of the port.

3. The Master's conservative use of propeller pitch, giving a reduced rate of turn, together with the delay in the commencement of the turn and wind drift due to the easterly wind, resulted in the turn being too wide.

It is further considered that:

4. The long period between the Master's familiarisation voyages and his appointment to the ship nullified the value of the familiarisation voyages.

5. A beacon located on the 4.2m sounding off Grassy Island would provide a point of reference, other than the leads, for making the tight turn around Grassy Island.

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