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The 182 m long, Australian flag bulk carrier River Torrens arrived off the Port of Newcastle, New South Wales, at 2100 on 31 May 1995, loaded with about 27,000 tonnes of wheat from South Australian ports. At 2107, a licensed pilot for the port boarded the ship to take the vessel to no. 3 berth, the Western Basin Grain Terminal. The night was fine, partly cloudy, with a light north-easterly wind and a swell of about 1.6 m at the harbour entrance.

The vessel's bridge passed the outer end of the Southern Breakwater at 2123. The vessel was to the south of the transit of the main leading lights and turning to port, although full starboard rudder had been applied. The vessel's speed at the time was estimated to be 8 to 9 knots. As soon as the vessel was in the lee of the Southern Breakwater, the vessel's speed was reduced to half ahead and then, after about a minute, to slow ahead.

River Torrens steadied as it approached no. 2 buoy and, as the vessel then began to swing to starboard, full port rudder was applied to counter the swing and avoid no. 2 buoy. However, the propeller and rudder came into contact with the steeply shelving channel bank 80 m east of no. 2 buoy. Although the rudder was kept hard to port and one of the waiting tugs pushed hard on the starboard bow, the vessel continued across the channel.

The Pilot ordered the anchors to be let go, but before they could be released the vessel grounded on the northern side of the channel at 2127, about 10 minutes before high-water.

After initial attempts to refloat the vessel, both tugs were positioned at the ship's stern to tow the vessel off the bank. Using the ship's engine and tug power, the ship was refloated at 2147 and resumed passage for the grain berth.

An inspection of the ship showed all propeller blades were damaged, the lower half of the spade rudder was bent to an angle of about 30 degrees from the vertical and some damage to the main engine crankshaft was evident. Forward, there were some superficial scrape marks to the bottom paint work. On 4 June, River Torrens entered dry dock where further assessment of the damage was made and repairs to the vessel began.


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

The Inspector is satisfied that neither alcohol nor drugs (prescribed or illicit) were factors in this incident. The Inspector considers that the following factors are relevant to the contact made by River Torrens with the south bank of the channel, about 80 m east of no. 2 buoy:

  1. The port entry had been inadequately planned by both the Pilot and ship's staff and insufficient action was taken to ensure River Torrens was in the intended position at the harbour entrance.
  2. As the ship approached the harbour entrance the ship was south of the leading transit delineated by the 'deep water' leading lights.
  3. When the vessel turned to enter harbour it was south of the transit delineated by the main leading lights.
  4. There was an acceleration in the rate of turn of the ship as it passed the Southern Breakwater head and, because the ship was towards the south side of the channel, there was insufficient room for the situation to be recovered.

The absence of any planning of the port entry by the Master of River Torrens meant that the pilotage could not be effectively monitored and the ship's officers were not sufficiently alert to the significance of the ship's position relative to the leading lights, resulting in reduced support to the Pilot.

  1. The planning and communication between the Master and Mate, the Master and Pilot, and the bridge team and the forward anchoring party was ineffective.
  2. The bridge organisation, with the Master relaying the Pilot's orders and an experienced officer standing by the telegraph, did not allow for a physical check to be made of the ship's position.

The following factors contributed to River Torrens taking the ground on the northern bank:

  1. After contact with the southern channel bank, the existing forward momentum, combined with the astern movements of the engine, maintained the ship's turn to starboard.
  2. Although it is problematic whether, had the anchors been dropped immediately when ordered, one or both anchors would have prevented the ship taking the ground, the fact that they were not cleared must be considered a factor in the incident.
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General details
Date: 01 June 1995 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: N/A  
Location:Newcastle Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: New South Wales  
Release date: 11 December 1995  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Vessel details
Vessel: River Torrens 
Flag: Aus 
IMO: 7420716 
Type of Operation: Bulk carrier 
Damage to Vessel: Nil 
Departure point:Wallaroo, SA
Departure time:N/A
Destination:Port of Newcastle, NSW
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Last update 19 May 2016