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Early on the morning of 1 November 1997, the Singaporean flag container ship NOL Amber embarked a licensed coastal pilot to the south-west of Booby Island, for the passage through Torres Strait and the Inner Two-way Route of the Great Barrier Reef. The vessel was at maximum draught, 12.2 m even keel, for the passage.

After boarding, the Pilot explained to the Master that there was a two-hour tidal window for negotiating Varzin Passage and that the vessel would then have to 'lose' about one and a half hours between Varzin Passage and Prince of Wales Channel, before there would be sufficient water in Prince of Wales to maintain the stipulated minimum under-keel clearance.

Proceeding at slow ahead, NOL Amber cleared Varzin Passage at 0640 and continued, at slow speed, towards the start of the delineated two-way route off Goods Island. The Pilot informed the Master that the earliest time for entry was 0900 and that he would therefore be turning the ship around to head west. The Third Mate maintained a plot of the ship's progress and a helmsman was on the wheel.

At about 0725, the Pilot gave a helm order to start the intended turn to starboard. At 0735, the ship was called by the Duty Officer at the REEFCENTRE and informed that his radar indicated NOL Amber was heading for shallow water. The Pilot replied that he was turning the ship around, to waste time and that 'they were doing all right', but at 0738 the vessel grounded on Larpent Bank.

Immediate attempts to refloat the vessel were unsuccessful, as were the attempts on the next two high tides. However, after discharging most of the ballast, the vessel was refloated, with the assistance of two local vessels, on 4 November. There was no pollution, the vessel suffered minimal damage and was permitted to resume its voyage after an inspection by divers.


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 Pilot did not have a properly prepared plan for the necessary delay between Varzin Passage and Prince of Wales Channel, including the turning about manoeuvre.
  2. The vessel's Bridge Team had not prepared a proper passage plan, identifying limiting bearings and safety distances.
  3. The Pilot did not fully brief the Master and Third Mate on the manoeuvre, to enable them to operate as a fully integrated, supportive team.
  4. The Pilot did not ascertain the vessel's position immediately before starting the manoeuvre.
  5. The Pilot did not fully evaluate the situation regarding River Embley before deciding which way to turn the vessel.
  6. At the start of the turn, the Master did not satisfy himself that the vessel had sufficient room in which to carry out the manoeuvre.
  7. At the start of the turn, the Third Mate did not advise the Pilot on the distance off Larpent Bank.
  8. Neither the Pilot nor the Master instructed the Third Mate to keep them informed about the distance off Larpent Bank during the turn.
  9. The 0735 position was incorrect.
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General details
Date: 01 November 1997 Investigation status: Completed 
Location:Torres Strait Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Queensland  
Release date: 15 May 1998  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Vessel details
Vessel: Nol Amber 
Flag: Singa 
IMO: 7819357 
Type of Operation: Container 
Damage to Vessel: Minor 
Departure point:Singapore
Destination:Brisbane, Qld
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Last update 19 May 2016