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The Danish owned vessel Svendborg Guardian sailed from Townsville at about 2000 on 23 June 1995, on its regular service between Townsville and the port of Kiunga, on the Fly River, Papua New Guinea.

The ship had been engaged on this service since 1988 and habitually followed a route inside the Great Barrier Reef between Townsville and Cairns, and then by the Grafton Passage, through the Coral Sea to the Fly River.

At about 0400 on 24 June, the ship failed to make a course alteration off Brook Islands and maintained a straight course to run aground south of Murdering Point, Queensland at about 0600.

Immediate attempts to refloat the vessel were unsuccessful as the tide started to fall. The ship was towed off the ground by the tug Otto Tasman at about 1830 on 24 June. The vessel was subsequently towed to Cairns for inspection.

No significant damage was found and the ship resumed its voyage to Kiunga on the afternoon of 26 June.


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

Svendborg Guardian grounded as a result of a number of factors which combined to contribute to the grounding:

  1. There was nobody on the bridge for a period of almost five hours with the ship effectively out of control.
  2. The bridge was unmanned because the Second Mate left the bridge at shortly after 0105 and failed to return because he fell asleep.
  3. The Second Mate was suffering from extreme fatigue as a result of poor quality sleep from 18 June to 23 June and his decision not to sleep after the ship left Townsville. This decision, prompted by his desire to watch a rugby league match rather than ensure he was as fit as possible to take his watch, displayed inexperience and irresponsibility.
  4. There was no look-out stationed on the bridge, and the ship was not equipped with any other system to alert the Master and crew in the event of the officer of the watch being incapacitated or otherwise not able to perform his/her duties.
  5. The absence of a look-out made the accident inevitable once the Second Mate had fallen and remained asleep, because there was nobody to rouse the Second Mate, call the Mate or summon the Master.
  6. The Master, Mate and Second Mate were all fatigued to a significant degree.
  7. The Master in command on 24 June had ordered that a seaman should act as look-out during the hours of darkness. This instruction was not complied with possibly due to a misunderstanding and a lack of effective communications in the form of written notification, and because of the entrenched practice for the officers to keep a watch alone during the night.
  8. The Owner's standard instructions did not give clear direction to the ship's masters to comply with the STCW Convention requirements.
  9. The habitual practice of not posting a look-out should have been detected by the ship operators and rectified.
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