Marine safety investigations & reports

Equipment failure aboard Maersk Tacoma

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 791KB]

At 1100 on 7 August 2001, the Hong Kong flag container vessel Maersk Tacoma departed Melbourne en route to Brisbane. The ship was loaded with containers and had a mean departure draught of 11.10 m. By 1524, the ship had cleared Port Phillip Bay, and was running at sea speed heading eastward through Bass Strait.

Between 1608 and 2200 on 7 August, the main engine was stopped four times in response to low Lubricating Oil (L.O.) alarms. After the stoppage at 2200, the engineers inspected the main engine crankcase and found that number twelve bottom end bearing had failed. The fuel to number twelve cylinder was turned off and the main engine was restarted at 0114 on 8 August. The intention was to proceed at reduced speed to a safe anchorage where the damage to the main engine could be better assessed.

At 0152 the main engine was stopped again after another low L.O. pressure alarm. The chief engineer found that he was having difficulty maintaining the lube pressure and informed the master that he could not use the main engine. The master then contacted the ship's managers in Hong Kong to inform them of the situation. Maersk Tacoma was approximately 13 nautical miles west of Rodondo Island and, with the wind from the north-west at force five, started drifting southeast at 2.5 knots.

By 0500 the weather had deteriorated with the wind force seven from the northwest and the vessel's rate of drift had increased to 3.0 knots in an easterly direction.

During the next four hours the weather continued to deteriorate as the ship drifted towards Cutter Rock which has a charted depth of 7.4 m. By 0900 the distance to Cutter Rock had closed to 1.8 miles on a bearing of approximately 135(T). The master was very concerned that the ship would ground on Cutter Rock and asked the chief engineer if he could have the main engine again for what ever time was possible. At 0910 the main engine was started dead slow ahead with one of the engineers controlling the main engine from the engine side control stand as the remote control system was unserviceable. At 0928 the main engine was stopped again after another low L.O. pressure alarm but in the 18 minutes that the engine had run the ship had tracked far enough north to clear Cutter Rock by 0.8 miles.

At 0946, the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) in Canberra was contacted by the ship's charterers who reported Maersk Tacoma's situation.

At 1026 the starboard anchor was lowered in an attempt to slow the ship's rate of drift. A short time later it was apparent that Maersk Tacoma's drift had slowed to 2.5 knots but the ship was now drifting east-north-east towards the Hogan group of islands some 16 miles away. The master was now concerned about the possibility that the ship would ground on one of the Hogan islands. Two attempts by the crew to raise the anchor after this time were unsuccessful.

Maersk Tacoma was contacted by Swire Pacific Offshore at 1225. They indicated that the salvage vessel Pacific Conqueror had departed from Barry Beach and would take approximately four hours to arrive at the ship's position. The master was still concerned that Maersk Tacoma would ground on one of the Hogan islands before Pacific Conqueror arrived to take the ship under tow. The RCC was also concerned and made arrangements for two helicopters to stand-by on Hogan Island if it became necessary to evacuate the ship's crew.

At 1505 Maersk Tacoma was six miles from Hogan Island when the main engine was started again in an attempt to save the ship despite the certain knowledge that the main engine would be damaged further. At 1618 the engine was stopped with Maersk Tacoma 4.3 miles north-west of Hogan Island and out of immediate danger.

Pacific Conqueror was sighted on the starboard beam by the crew of Maersk Tacoma at 1646 and was alongside the ship by 1706. By 1822 Pacific Conqueror had taken the ship in tow by hooking the ship's anchor cable using a 'J' hook. The tow then proceeded without significant incident until 1300 on 9 August when the two vessels arrived at a safe anchorage off Sealers Cove on the eastern side of Wilson's Promontory.

By 12 August the weather had moderated sufficiently to allow Maersk Tacoma to be towed to Melbourne. On 14 August, the ship arrived at Swanson Dock where it remained until 17 October 2001 while damage to the main engine was repaired.

The report's conclusions include:

  • The ship's main engine was disabled when number twelve bottom end bearing failed.
  • It is likely that the bottom end bearing failure was the result of its pre-existing condition in combination with reduced L.O. flow.
  • Maersk Tacoma's engineers placed themselves in significant danger by running the damaged main engine to save the ship on two occasions when it was at risk of grounding on both Cutter Rock and the Hogan group of islands.
  • Maersk Tacoma's crew were unnecessarily imperilled by the failure to notify Australian authorities of the vessel's situation for some eight hours after the main engine was found to be effectively unserviceable.
  • The delay in notifying the Australian authorities of the breakdown and the potential risk to the environment, together with the time taken to organise a tow indicates significant deficiencies in the ship manager's emergency planning.

The report recommends that:

Ship owners and operators include procedures in their vessel's safety management systems which stipulate that local rescue coordination centres must be notified promptly if the ship becomes disabled.

Related Documents: | Media Release |

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 791KB]
General details
Date: 08 August 2001   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1608 and 2200    
Location: Bass Strait    
State: Victoria    
Release date: 15 June 2005   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Maersk Tacoma  
Flag Hng K  
IMO 7909425  
Type of operation Container  
Damage to vessel Nil  
Departure point Melbourne  
Departure time 1100  
Destination Brisbane  
Last update 19 May 2016