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At 0600 on 18 November 1998, the Singapore flag offshore anchor-handling vessel and ocean-going tug Britoil 22 was engaged in deploying anchors for the offshore construction barge Java Constructor, approximately 1 mile* north east of Varanus Island, which lies 6 miles north-east of Barrow Island, Western Australia.

Java Constructor was in the process of laying a new 16-inch gas pipeline from the mainland to Varanus Island, as part of The Varanus Island Pipelines Project. The role of Britoil 22 was to reposition the mother vessel's anchors to allow forward travel of the barge.

The immediate area of operation of Britoil 22 contained several submerged gas and oil pipelines, and many coral pinnacles in shallow water. The weather at the time was good, with wind from the south-south-west at force 3-4. There was a low swell and the tide was just past low water.

At about 0605, Britoil 22 was directed by Java Constructor to move the port 3 anchor. In the process of approaching the anchor to raise it, the vessel struck and rode up on a submerged object. The vessel was subsequently moved astern clear of the object. Fearing the vessel had been damaged, the master instructed the mate and second engineer to sound the tanks and check all spaces. A short while later they reported no sign of damage.

The anchor was approached from a new direction, raised, and successfully re-deployed in the new required position.

Britoil 22 was next instructed to move the port 1 anchor. At 0730, after raising the anchor to the stern roller, an engine room bilge alarm sounded. Investigation revealed the engine room was taking water. The anchor was dropped and the available engine room bilge pumps brought on line. Britoil 22 proceeded immediately back to Java Constructor, where the flooding was brought under control and the hole located and temporarily plugged by a diver. The engine room bilge was pumped dry and an internal 'cement box' repair effected over the hole.

Britoil 22 proceeded, with the materials barge Sea Sovereign in tow, back to Dampier, finally arriving at 1425 on 19 November. A damage survey was conducted and a condition of class was placed on the vessel. The vessel was subsequently re-delivered to the owners in Singapore and the charter prematurely terminated under the terms of the contract.


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.

Britoil 22 either made contact with, Java Constructor's port 3 anchor, or grounded on an uncharted coral head in the shallow water adjacent to Varanus Island. Given the pattern of damage and the Fugro statement concerning the possible existence of a 1 m 'high mound' in the port 3 anchor position, it is more likely that the vessel made contact with the anchor.

The grounding or contact and consequent holing of Britoil 22 was the result of a combination of factors. These factors include but are not limited to:

  1. The initial route survey data was misinterpreted by the construction survey team and thus specific hazards to the anchor-handling vessels in the shallows of Varanus Island were not identified.
  2. There was poor and/or insufficient communication of operational information, in the form of adequate survey data, between project control on the pipelay barge and the anchor-handling vessels.
  3. There was a lack of a cohesive plan or procedure identifying the specific responsibilities, hazards, actions and contingencies for the shallow water anchor-handling operations adjacent to Varanus Island.
  4. There was a lack of anticipatory action by project control, in the form of a supplementary survey, when knowledge of uncharted hazards came to light.
  5. The difficulties associated with anchor-handling operations in shallow waters, in low light and adverse tidal conditions, were not sufficiently considered.
  6. There was inadequate adherence to the OSV Code with respect to the provision of agreed written procedures and, in fact, any reasonable operational dialogue between the pipelay barge and anchor-handling vessels.
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General details
Date: 18 November 1998 Investigation status: Completed 
Location:Off WA Coast Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: Western Australia  
Release date: 09 May 2000  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Incident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Vessel details
Vessel: Britoil 22 
Flag: Singa 
IMO: 9147629 
Type of Operation: Offshore support and towing vessel 
Damage to Vessel: Substantial 
Departure point:Dampier, WA
Destination:north east of Varanus Island
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Last update 19 May 2016