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Summary At approximately 1600 hours on 8 August 1996, the Indonesian cargo vessel Niaga 46, arrived at Christmas Island, about 4.5 miles to the Northwest of Flying Fish Cove. The ship was due to berth at 0600 the following morning to load 7,600 tonnes of rock phosphate.

Christmas Island is "steep to" and ships do not anchor but drift while waiting to berth. Niaga 46 hove to in position with North West Point bearing 270 x 2.5 miles, to drift overnight. Sea watches were maintained and the engine was on ten minutes notice of readiness. The wind was blowing from a southerly direction at 17 knots and the anticipated current was west going at about 2 knots.

By 2132, the vessel had drifted west towards North West Point and the Third Mate decided to reposition the ship. At 2323, the vessel was repositioned about 2.5 miles due east of North West Point.

At midnight, the Second Mate had not arrived on the bridge so the Third Mate handed over the watch to the 12-4 apprentice and left the bridge at about 0005. The Second Mate arrived on the bridge at about 0010 and switched on the starboard radar to check the ship's position. The radar showed Niaga 46 as being close to the land east of North West Point. He rang the duty engineer and requested use of the engine. The engine was ready at 0039, however, before the Second Mate could manoeuvre clear of the land the ship grounded at 0047 about 6 cables east of North West Point.

At 0605, contact was made with the Harbour Master, Christmas Island, and he boarded the ship a little after 0700 on 9 August. The Harbour Master took charge of the refloating operation and, after a number of unsuccessful attempts, the vessel was refloated at 2300 on 9 August.

The vessel suffered extensive damage and was taken in tow to a repair port in Indonesia.


These conclusions identify the different factors contributing to grounding of Niaga 46 and should not be read as apportioning liability or blame to any particular individual or organisation.

It is probable that when the Third Mate left the bridge, Niaga 46 was still making way through the water as a result of the prolonged use of the engine at full harbour speed while repositioning the ship between 2132 and 2323. This, combined with the following factors, contributed to the grounding:

  1. The Third Mate absenting himself from the bridge before the Second Mate arrived to take up his watch.
  2. The hand over of the watch at midnight to the apprentice, was inappropriate, not thorough and did not reflect the true status of the ship in relation to the status of the navigation equipment and the proximity of the land.
  3. A complete lack of acceptable watchkeeping standards and an absence of basic seamanship practices.
  4. A lack of any realistic assessment by the Master or deck officers of the risks involved while drifting off Christmas Island, together with the lack of planning and determination of sensible safety margins.
  5. A lack of clear direction and control over the conduct of the watchkeeping officers by the Company and Master.
  6. Poor general management of the ship, and its operation.
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[ Download PDF: 373KB]
General details
Date: 09 August 1996 Investigation status: Completed 
Location:Christmas Is, Indian Ocean Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: International  
Release date: 16 June 1997  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Vessel details
Vessel: Niaga 46 
Flag: Indonesia 
IMO: 7432458 
Type of Operation: Motor general cargo 
Damage to Vessel: Substantial 
Departure point:Tanjung Priok
Departure time:2100
Destination:Christmas Island
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Last update 19 May 2016