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Early on 25 April 1997, the Australian steel hulled, long-line fishing vessel Exterminator was repositioning to the south, before shooting its line, about 19 miles east by south of Green Point, New South Wales. The Skipper was on watch in the wheelhouse and had noticed, on the radar, a vessel coming up from astern, shaping to pass clear on the port side.

Suddenly, at about 0040, there was a loud bang and a jolt and the Skipper was thrown to the deck on the port side of the wheelhouse as Exterminator rolled heavily to port. Pulling himself back to a standing position, the Skipper saw the hull of a large vessel, in a light condition, passing up the fishing vessel's starboard side. As Exterminator rocked as a result of the initial collision, it came into contact twice more with the hull of the other vessel.

The Skipper put out a number of calls on VHF16, but received no response. He reported the collision to AMSA, then, after contacting the owner, returned to Eden to assess the damage.

The 110,461 tonnes deadweight Liberian tanker Unisina had sailed, in ballast, from Gore Bay, Sydney, on the morning of 24 April 1997, bound for the FPSO Cossack Pioneer, located on the Northwest Shelf.

At midnight on 24 April, the vessel was in a position 20.5 miles east of Green Cape, making good a speed of 11.6 knots on a course of 196. Shortly after 0030, the officer of the watch started altering course slowly to starboard for a vessel, which he considered to be northbound and crossing from starboard to port. After about five minutes and with the ship heading about 235, the officer applied hard to starboard rudder, then port rudder, in an apparent attempt to avoid a collision.

Scientific comparison by the Australian Federal Police Scientific Branch matched paint taken from the hull of Unisina with paint deposited on Exterminator, indicating that Unisina was the vessel that collided with the fishing vessel.


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.

Unisina collided with Exterminator after the Watch Officer mistook the lights of Exterminator to be those of a more distant, crossing vessel and altered course towards the fishing vessel. The following factors are considered to have contributed to the incident:

  • A proper lookout was not maintained on the bridge of Unisina between midnight and 0030.
  • A proper appraisal of the situation was not carried out by the Watch Officer, by using either visual bearings or radar, before he altered course to starboard.
  • Reduced alertness on the part of the Watch Officer, brought about by a sleep debt and 'jet lag'.
  • The absence of any guidelines to owners and operators by the Flag Administation, or instructions to masters by the vessel's operator, on rest period requirements to overcome the effects of long distance travel prior to joining a vessel.
  • A proper lookout was not maintained on Exterminator.
  • The inappropriate display of fishing signal lights by Exterminator.
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