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The Australian steam turbine bulk carrier Fitzroy River sailed from the Lorim Point bauxite berth, Weipa, at about 1800 on 24 August 1998. The Master, who held a pilotage exemption certificate for the port, conducted the outward pilotage.

The outward passage proceeded routinely between Lorim Point jetty and Gonbung Point. After executing the turn to starboard off Gonbung Point, the Master found that the ship was south of the intended course line and he steered a course into the 'Bellmouth' to compensate.

With the ship steering a course of about 285, and when the bridge was on the line of leads marking the centre of the South Channel, the Master ordered port rudder to turn the ship into the South Channel. Very soon afterwards, the Master realised that the ship was not turning fast enough and he ordered full port rudder.

The ship's heading had reached 240 when the bow grounded on a spit of shoal water extending about 200 m east-north-east from Bn.18, which marks the north bank of the inner eastern end of South Channel. Immediately the engine was put to about 70 rpm astern, but the ship proved to be securely aground with the bow about 130 m from Bn.18 on a heading of 243.

The Master reported the grounding to the ship's managers and the ASP Ship Management emergency plan was activated.

The ship was refloated the following morning with the assistance of tugs. Nobody was injured as a result of the grounding and no pollution resulted.

An inspection of the ship showed that it had sustained no material damage and the vessel was able to continue in service.


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 intended use of Bn.25 and Bn.33 in transit was inappropriate and impracticable given that:

  • they were astern of the ship;
  • Fitzroy River has limited visibility astern;
  • Bn.33 would be over 1.4 miles away and difficult to see;
  • there were insufficient people on the bridge to monitor the transit from the port side of the ship;
  • there were adequate cues and prompts for conning Fitzroy River ahead of the ship; and
  • looking for the transit was a distraction.

2. Reduced underkeel clearance affected the rate of turn between Bn.28 and Bn.20.

3. Given Fitzroy River's distance from Bn.20 and the ship's heading when the Master ordered the rudder to port to turn into South Channel, the order was given too late.

4. At the time of the order to put the rudder to port, there was a residual swing to starboard, which built in a critical delay in the turn.

5. The Master's relative inexperience resulted in his not detecting a reduced set to the north between Bn.30 and Bn.32, which should have alerted him to a possibly reduced tidal flow in the Embley River.

6. Although there is some evidence of a slightly reduced tidal flow in the Embley River, it was the series of small errors of judgement, rather than the reduced rate of the tidal stream that were the main contributors to the grounding.

7. The reduced manning on the bridge did not allow for full use to be made of the electronic navigation aids, particularly the radars.

8. Deficiencies in the training of exempt masters.

  • Written advice to masters seeking exemption is based on notes made by past pilots. These notes have no official standing and do not include tidal data provided to the port authority.
  • The ad hoc nature in the training of exempt Masters for the Port of Weipa, resulted in a lack of structure in training and the Master not receiving critical information.

9. Although a number of bulk carriers at maximum draught have grounded on the outward passage in the port of Weipa, none of the reports are made available to masters seeking pilotage exemption and no overall analysis is available from which lessons can be It is further considered that:

10. The Helmsman steered the ship proficiently, in accordance with the Master's orders.

11. After the grounding, the Master and crew followed all the correct procedures. These actions, combined with the ASP Ship Management Emergency Plan and the operation of the tugs, contributed to the safe refloating of the ship.

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General details
Date: 25 August 1998 Investigation status: Completed 
Location:Weipa Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Queensland  
Release date: 15 June 1999  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Vessel details
Vessel: Fitzroy River 
Flag: Aus 
IMO: 8019019 
Type of Operation: Bulk carrier 
Damage to Vessel: Nil 
Departure point:Weipa, Qld
Destination:Gladstone, Qld
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Last update 19 May 2016