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At about 0110 on 21 June 2000, off Evans Head, New South Wales, the skipper of the prawn trawler Sue M and the deckhand were sorting their catch on the after deck. The trawler, on autopilot, was heading east to another fishing ground, when it was struck on the port side by a southbound ship. The skipper ran into the wheelhouse to attempt to take control of the trawler as it rolled over to starboard before capsizing.

The deckhand climbed over the side of the trawler as it capsized and jumped clear before it sank. He eventually climbed into the trawler's fibreglass dinghy which, although badly damaged, had surfaced after breaking loose from the wheelhouse roof. He was rescued the next night by another trawler.

The ship, the Panama flag bulk carrier Star Sea Bridge, had sailed from Brisbane on the morning of 20 June bound for Melbourne. At the time of the collision, the officer of the watch, the second mate, had been manoeuvring to avoid a northbound container ship. As the bulk carrier was resuming its original course, the second mate saw a white light, close by, to starboard. He ordered full port rudder, but the ship made contact with the white light, roughly amidships on the ship's side as its stern swung to starboard. The master of Star Sea Bridge was called to the bridge and the ship was turned about to search the area where the collision had occurred. After searching and finding nothing, the ship resumed its voyage south.

At Melbourne, Star Sea Bridge was boarded by agents of the Australian Federal Police who initiated an investigation and, subsequently, criminal proceedings against the master and the second mate. A concurrent, but separate, safety investigation was undertaken by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) under the provisions of the Navigation (Marine Casualty) Regulations.

An extensive air and sea search was unable to locate the skipper of Sue M. On 22 June 2001, the wreck of Sue M was located by another trawler. A week later, divers from the NSW Water Police recovered the body of the skipper from its wheelhouse.

This report concludes that:

  • The fishing vessel Sue M sank, with the loss of its skipper, after colliding with the bulk carrier Star Sea Bridge;
  • The second mate and lookout of Star Sea Bridge were not keeping a proper lookout;
  • The skipper and the deckhand on the fishing vessel, who had been busy sorting their catch under bright deck lights, were not keeping a proper lookout; and,
  • The bulk carrier's navigation lights were probably not on at the time of the collision.

The report recommends that:

  • Ships' masters and skippers of fishing vessels should ensure that a proper lookout is maintained at all times;
  • Ships' masters, watchkeepers, fishing vessel skippers and crews take note of the limitations of radar;
  • Owners, operators and skippers of fishing vessels consider the use of appropriate equipment to improve the radar detectability of their vessels.
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General details
Date: 21 June 2000 Investigation status: Completed 
Location:East of Evans Head Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: New South Wales Occurrence type: Collision 
Release date: 26 February 2004  
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Serious Incident 
 Highest injury level: Fatal 
Vessel 1 details
Vessel: Sue M 
Flag: Aus 
Type of Operation: Fishing boat, class 3C 
Damage to Vessel: Destroyed 
Departure point:Iluka
Departure time:1530
Destination:off Evans Head
Vessel 2 details
Vessel: Star Sea Bridge 
Flag: Pan 
IMO: 9168269 
Type of Operation: Bulk carrier 
Damage to Vessel: Nil 
Departure point:Brisbane, Qld
Departure time:0915
Destination:Melbourne, Vic
Fatal: 1001
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Last update 19 May 2016