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The Turkish flag bulk carrier M Nuri Cerrahoglu, sailed from Hay Point on 2 November 1994, loaded with about 52,500 tonnes of coal, bound for Singapore and Turkey by way of the inner route of the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Straits. The vessel had a maximum draft of about 11.0m and required a suitable "tidal window" to navigate the Prince of Wales Channel and Varzin Passage of the Torres Straits.

At Hay Point a licensed pilot joined the ship, to take charge of the navigation for the passage through the Reef.

On the evening of 4 November, the vessel anchored on the eastern side of Prince of Wales Channel, awaiting a sufficient rise in the sea level to safely navigate Varzin Passage on the western side. At about 2330, the vessel weighed anchor and transited the Prince of Wales Channel. When approaching Varzin Passage at about 0200, the broadcasting tide gauge at Booby Island indicated there was insufficient water for the ship to pass safely.

The Pilot decided to delay the ship by turning a wide circle to port. When almost half way through the turn, the vessel stopped swinging despite port rudder being applied. The ship was travelling slowly and, concerned that the ship might be touching the seabed, the engines were put astern. After 20 to 30 minutes the vessel had gained sufficient stern way to take it into safe water, where the ship was checked for possible damage before passing through Varzin Passage.

Nobody was hurt as a result of the incident, no damage was reported to the ship and no pollution resulted.


These conclusions identify the different factors contributing to the incident and should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular organisation or individual.

  1. There is no clear evidence that the vessel actually took the ground, although it is probable that the ship did touch the seabed. Whatever happened, the ship was in water where the depth was such that it was unable to maintain forward movement in safety and there was insufficient under keel clearance.
  2. The Master's statement that the ship's deepest draught of 11.0m was accurate within acceptable limits.
  3. Atmospheric conditions resulted in the depth of water being less than that predicted and lagging in time.
  4. The Pilot's passage plan took into account the need to anchor to the east of the Prince of Wales Channel, however, in view of the actual tidal conditions as broadcast by the "realtime" tide gauges, M Nuri Cerrahoglu left the anchorage north of Alpha Rock prematurely in view of the tidal conditions within the Prince of Wales Channel.
  5. The ship's speed made good over the ground between Alert Patches and Harrison Rock buoy was faster than that anticipated from the allowance made for the tidal stream and the ship's propeller revolution setting.
  6. There is no evidence that M Nuri Cerrahoglu was closer to Larpent Bank than the position fixed by the Master and Mate.
  7. The evidence, provided by the survey conducted by Laser Airborn Depth Sounder, is that the charted depths shown on the chart in the immediate area of the grounding were accurate, within the tolerances published by the Hydrographic Office.
  8. The turn to port started at or just after 0200 on 5 November in a position 1.9 miles north of Larpent Bank, was to allow time for the tide to rise in Varzin Passage, it was therefore reasonable to use only ten degrees of rudder and to proceed at a slow speed, providing the ship's turn was monitored to ensure safe passage.
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