Marine safety investigations & reports

Capsize of Provincial Trader while in tow

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On the night of 28-29 April 1994, the privately owned Provincial Trader became disabled in the eastern area of Bass Strait, whilst on a voyage from Adelaide to Cairns. Provincial Trader was a former tug of 418 gross registered tonnes [739 tonnes displacement] with a length of 42m.

The skipper advised Melbourne Marine Communications Service of the situation and later contacted the owner in Cairns. The owner arranged for the Eden based 14.8m work boat Broadwater to tow the vessel the 100 or so miles to Eden and also to take out some compressed air bottles to the vessel. Broadwater commenced the tow at 0300 on 30 April, but proved inadequate and the tow was relinquished to the fishing vessel Rubicon at 1215 on 30 April.

Water had been accumulating in Provincial Trader's engine room bilge from early on 29 April, eventually causing some concern. However, the engineer was able to start the bilge pump after receiving the compressed air bottles and the water level was reduced and stabilised.

When the tow was approaching Twofold Bay, NSW, early on 1 May, Provincial Trader's engine room suddenly and rapidly filled with water and the skipper ordered the crew to abandon ship. Provincial Trader sank just 530m outside the Eden port limits, the crew being rescued by Rubicon.


It is considered that:

  1. Provincial Trader foundered as a result of a sudden great increase in water ingress, but it was not possible to ascertain the cause or the point of ingress.
  2. The skipper and engineer acted appropriately to the conditions existing at the various times and the loss of Provincial Trader was not the direct result of those actions.
  3. Notwithstanding the fact that the vessel was registered with the South Australian Authorities as a motor boat (pleasure craft), there were insufficient proficient crew members on board to undertake the voyage safely and to respond to the emergency.
  4. Broadwater was not a suitable vessel for the task.
  5. Had a suitable towing vessel been engaged in the initial stages, Provincial Trader would most probably have been delivered timely and safely to Eden before the flooding occurred.
  6. Had a salvage pump been delivered by Broadwater or transferred from Osprey, it is a matter of conjecture as to whether the emergency situation would have arisen. With a salvage pump to back up the bilge pump, the increased inflow of water may have been contained until such time as the vessel had been delivered into Eden harbour.
  7. Bearing in mind the age of the vessel, the time out of survey and in lay up, a full survey to ensure seaworthiness would have been appropriate before Provincial Trader sailed from Adelaide.
  8. Commonwealth and State legislation is deficient in that not all definitions are standard and common to the various jurisdictions.
Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 1.03MB]
General details
Date: 01 May 1994   Investigation status: Completed  
Location: Off Two Fold Bay    
State: New South Wales    
Release date: 20 June 1995    
Report status: Final   Occurrence category: Incident  
  Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Provincial Trader  
Flag Aus  
IMO 196905  
Type of operation Tug convested to fishing vessel  
Damage to vessel Destroyed  
Departure point Adelaide, SA  
Destination Cairna, Qld  
Last update 18 May 2016