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The Singapore registered container vessel NOL Crystal sailed from Fisherman Islands container terminal at 0436 on 26 September 1997, at a maximum draught of 11.9 m, bound for Port Botany. The navigation was under the direction of a licensed pilot.

At the time of sailing, visibility was reduced to a little under one mile. As the vessel proceeded along Bar Reach, the visibility improved and speed was increased to full ahead.

The vessel navigated by way of East Channel, Main Channel and Spitfire Channel to North West Channel. VHF radio contact was made between NOL Crystal and a southbound car carrier and it was agreed the southbound ship, at a relatively shallow draft, would stay outside and to the west of the channel. After leaving Spitfire Channel, course was set to leave the next beacon (NW10) to starboard and an inbound ship was seen on the radar.

At 0704, NOL Crystal passed NW10 beacon and, within a minute, entered a fog bank. The ship's speed was reduced and the ship's whistle sounded. A little later the whistle of the inbound ship could be heard as it passed clear to port. The fog was very thick.

At about 0715 as NOL Crystal passed NW3 beacon the Pilot altered the ship's course for the next leg of the channel. About four minutes later the Officer of the Watch told the Pilot that the ship was outside and to the east of the channel.

The Pilot could see that the vessel was slightly east of the transit of beacons NW8 and NW6. The Pilot ordered the engine revolutions to slow ahead followed by a bold alteration to port to bring the ship back into the channel. The Officer of the Watch then reported that the vessel was in the channel and the Pilot ordered an alteration of course to starboard. The ship was slow to respond and two minutes later the Officer of the Watch reported that the vessel was now outside the channel to the west and the Pilot ordered an increase in the helm angle.

The ship reached a heading of 300 and had started to turn to starboard when it grounded at about 0728 on a heading of 315, in position 26 56.3 degrees South 153 11.9 degrees East, with NW8 beacon bearing 021 x 0.57 miles. NOL Crystal refloated without assistance under its own power that afternoon at 1415. After ensuring that the vessel's watertight integrity was intact, the vessel was permitted to continue its voyage. Nobody was injured and no pollution resulted from the grounding.


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. The following factors are considered to have contributed to the grounding:

  1. The fog conditions resulted in the loss of all normal visual marks and prompts.
  2. The Pilot became disorientated in the fog.
  3. The Pilot had no blind pilotage system to provide a seamless change in navigation procedures.
  4. The alteration of course to clear the inbound ship at about 0710 resulted in the ship being out of position for the alteration of course off NW3 beacon.
  5. In the absence of a full voyage plan and blind pilotage system, the Pilot overcorrected the ship's head to regain the channel after NW3 beacon.
  6. The Pilot misjudged the return to the channel course and delayed the return to 328 until it was inevitable that the ship would enter the shallow water to the west of the channel.
  7. The reduced under-keel clearance affected the handling charateristics of the ship, increasing the turning circle.
  8. Once in conditions of restricted visibility, the lack of detailed outward passage plan by the ship's staff resulted in the potential for a 'single person failure' to result in a grounding.
  9. Although the ship's positions were fixed at frequent intervals, the positions provided a historical record of where the ship had been. In confined waters historical information is limited in its use to prevent a grounding. It is further considered that:
  10. Any discrepancy between the true position and that given by the GPS receiver was not of such a magnitude as to have affected the pilotage of the ship.
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