Marine safety investigations & reports

Steering gear failure on the Australian flag motor Warden Point

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On 9 November 1999, the Australian flag bulk carrier Warden Point was southbound off the north coast of New South Wales, en route to Melbourne, with a cargo of fly ash. At about 0230, the weather changed due to an intense low-pressure system approximately 300 nautical miles to the south. By 0800 the vessel was experiencing near gale force winds from the south. The vessel was pitching heavily in large seas submerging the lower poop deck, at times, under 2-3 m of water.

At 1400, the duty engineer reported that the rope locker hatch lid, on the lower poop deck, was leaking and that water had entered the rope locker and adjoining steering flat. The crew subsequently managed to reseal the hatch lid after some problems due to waves that were periodically sweeping the deck and running over the hatch.

At 2330, Australian Eastern Standard Time (EST), the second mate came on the bridge to take the watch. After the watch was handed over he instructed the 12-4 integrated rating (IR) to go through the accommodation and advance the clocks 1 hour, he also instructed the IR to check the rope locker and steering flat. The IR rang back a short time later to report that the rope locker and steering flat were awash and that the water was running over the steering motors. The second mate started the stand-by steering motor and called the duty engineer. Just as he put the phone down one steering motor failed, followed by the other motor about 10 seconds later. The second mate stopped the ship and called the master. The time was 0115, Australian Eastern Summer Time (EDT), 10 November 1999, with the vessel east of Sugarloaf Point, north of Newcastle. Once the vessel lost headway it became beam-on to the large sea and rolled heavily.

All the engineers and integrated ratings were called to the engine room to work on restoring the steering and pumping the steering flat and rope locker dry. Both steering motors were dismantled and found to be damaged beyond repair. There was no spare motor so the lower rated stand-by main engine jacket cooling water pump motor was used to make an emergency repair. While the crew were completing the emergency repairs to the steering the cargo shifted, causing a port list of 2-3° and a noticeable trim by the head.

At 0852 on 10 November 1999, with the steering finally restored, the vessel headed for Newcastle, the nearest port of refuge, to effect permanent repairs. However, Newcastle Port closed at 1526 on 10 November 1999, due to the bad weather, and the decision was made to divert Warden Point to Port Kembla.

Warden Point arrived at the Port Kembla pilot boarding ground at 1000 on 11 November 1999 by which time the list had increased to over 5°. The steering was limited to a maximum of 15° helm and the vessel was berthed using two tugs. At 1236, the vessel was finally made fast alongside no.1 coal berth. The ships engineers and shore contractors worked into the night on the steering gear and rope locker hatch lid. The cargo was inspected and found to have moved in both holds. The list was corrected by re-trimming the cargo in no.1 hold.

Warden Point departed Port Kembla at 0830 on 12 November 1999 and completed the voyage to Melbourne without further incident.


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.

On 9,10, 11 November 1999 Warden Point experienced a series of events in which the ship suffered significant damage and which endangered the vessel and crew.

1. The initial failure of Warden Point's steering gear was a result of the steering pump motors failing after contact with seawater.

2. The seawater gained access to the steering gear flat via the two lowest penetrations in the bulkhead between the steering flat and the adjacent rope locker, which had been flooded as a result of its leaking hatch lid.

3. The rope locker hatch lid leaked as a result of seawater over the lower poop deck, and the poor seal between the hatch lid and the hatch coaming. The rope locker hatch lid had not been maintained in a watertight condition in that the worn dogs and wedges were not exerting sufficient clamping pressure to secure the hatch lid given the recent fitment of soft new sealing rubber.

4. The seawater contamination of the fuel service tanks was a result of poorly maintained breather vents and the weight of seawater over the vents in the poor weather conditions.

5. The vessel's initial list to port was a result of the fly ash cargo shifting. The shift of cargo was the direct result of the movement of the vessel when lying starboard beam-on to the large sea.

Although not contributing factors, it is further considered that:

6. The initial stability conditions for the vessel should have been calculated after completion of loading at Gladstone. Some assessment of the vessel's stability should also have been made after the cargo had shifted.

7. Safety harnesses and lifelines would have minimized the risk of crew members being swept overboard when working on resealing the rope locker hatch while the lower poop deck was being regularly swamped by waves.

8. The absence of a bilge alarm fitted in either the rope locker or steering flat prevented the crew being alerted to the water ingress in sufficient time to avert the failure of the steering motors.

9. The knowledge of the transportation properties of the Gladstone power station fly ash is insufficient; an accurate stowage factor needs to be ascertained and the 'cohesive' categorisation of the cargo reviewed. Adequate measures also need to be prescribed to minimise the risk of cargo shifting in adverse conditions.

10. The decision to divert the vessel to Port Kembla, rather than a closer port of refuge, may have unnecessarily endangered the vessel and crew with the continued movement of the cargo.

11. The efforts of the crew on the days of 9,10, 11 November, in resealing the rope locker hatch, restoring the steering and navigating Warden Point safely to port in such adverse conditions, were commendable.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 377KB]
General details
Date: 10 November 1999   Investigation status: Completed  
Location: Off east coast, Australia    
State: New South Wales    
Release date: 04 June 2001   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Warden Point (formerly Red Sea)  
Flag Aus  
IMO 7636822  
Type of operation Bulk carrier  
Damage to vessel Substantial  
Departure point Port Kembla, NSW  
Destination Melbourne, Vic  
Last update 19 May 2016