Marine safety investigations & reports

Grounding of the Panama registered bulk carrier La Pampa

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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At about 0624 on 27 March 2002, the Panama flag bulk carrier La Pampa sailed from the Clinton Coal Terminal at Gladstone for Fos in France. A pilot was on board and three tugs assisted the ship off the berth. The vessel was loaded with 160 927 tonnes of coal and had a deepest draught of 17.825 m.

Both main steering pumps were tested satisfactorily before departure and were running when the vessel sailed. At about 0650, just before the tugs were released, a steering alarm sounded. The rudder was stopped at hard to port, but the problem quickly seemed to resolve itself. Then, at about 0710, by which time the tugs had been released and had returned to their berth, the steering alarm sounded again.

The steering continued to operate as the chief engineer went to the steering flat to investigate. There he found that both main hydraulic inlet and outlet lines on number one steering pump were leaking large quantities of oil under pressure. This pump was stopped and then restarted but at about 0712 the steering failed. The pilot asked for tug assistance, while the chief engineer tried, unsuccessfully, to operate the emergency steering system.

At 0714, before the tugs could assist the ship, La Pampa grounded on the northern side of the channel. At 0722 the vessel was refloated with the assistance of the tugs and was anchored at an emergency inner anchorage. Tank soundings established that number one double bottom ballast tank was taking in water and the ballast and stripping pumps were started to control the ingress of water. During this time the chief engineer was checking the steering gear and discovered pieces of piston seal from one of the hydraulic rams lodged in a control valve.

Later in the day the decision was made to shift the ship to the outer anchorage. At 1820, with number two steering pump operating, the anchor was weighed. La Pampa proceeded outward with three tugs in attendance but, at 1904, the steering failed once again. The vessel then had to be assisted by the tugs to the outer anchorage where it was anchored at 2345. Repairs to the hull and steering gear were then undertaken.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) detained the vessel until 14 April when repairs to the steering gear were complete and they were satisfied that the vessel was seaworthy.

The report concludes that:

  • the grounding was caused by a major failure of the steering gear.
  • the steering gear failure was due to the disintegration of the piston seals in the starboard steering rams.
  • the failure of the seals on the suction and discharge ports on number one steering pump was the result of an over pressurisation caused by debris from the failed piston seals being passed into the hydraulic system.
  • the failure of the piston seals in the starboard steering rams meant that the steering system could not be operated using either the emergency pump or number two steering pump without isolating these rams.
  • The master did not direct anybody to inspect the steering gear when the initial, transitory, malfunction occurred at 0650

The report recommends that:

  • Port authorities consider the risks associated with the passage of deep draught vessels within their ports and have appropriate contingency plans in place to deal with foreseeable emergencies.
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[Download  PDF: 1.01MB]
General details
Date: 27 March 2002   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: N/A    
Location: Gladstone    
State: Queensland    
Release date: 30 June 2004   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel La Pampa  
Flag Pan  
IMO 9000649  
Type of operation Bulk carrier  
Damage to vessel Nil  
Departure point Clinton Terminal, Gladstone  
Departure time 0624  
Destination Fos, France  
Last update 19 May 2016