Marine safety investigations & reports

Grounding of cargo ship Tauranga Chief

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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Tauranga Chief arrived at Sydney from Port Kembla on 17 January 2003 on its normal liner route. It had sailed from Port Kembla the previous evening and arrived at the Sydney pilot boarding ground on schedule at 0300 local time. The pilot boarded as planned and the ship continued inwards toward the booked berth at White Bay container terminal.

When the ship came to an intended course alteration position in the harbour, east of Bradleys Head, the pilot initiated the turn to starboard to round the headland. He firstly ordered 5 starboard rudder and, when the ship did not respond quickly enough, he increased the order to starboard 10. The rate of swing increased markedly and so the pilot ordered port 20 to slow the swing. The seaman on the wheel made an error executing this last wheel order and instead applied starboard 20 wheel. Before the consequences of this error could be corrected, the ship ran aground on a mud/sand patch just south of the light on the southern end of the headland.

Two harbour tugs, which were waiting to assist the berthing operations for the ship, were called to the location and the ship was refloated using the tugs, the ship's anchor and main engine after being aground for about half an hour. Tauranga Chief continued to its berth where divers checked the ships hull externally for any damage, while it was alongside the wharf for cargo operations.

Only slight, localised scratching of the underwater paintwork on the bottom of the hull under the bulbous bow and around the forward end of the hull was reported after the divers inspection and video report so the ship was released by AMSA to continue its voyage to New Zealand.

The report concludes that the grounding was caused by an error in the execution of wheel orders during a routine course alteration. Contributing factors identified included:

  • The grounding was initiated by an error in the execution of wheel orders during a routine course alteration.
  • The pilot did not order midships before ordering counter rudder. This may have contributed to the helmsmans failure to recognise and act upon the change in rudder direction.
  • The seaman on the wheel was possibly affected by fatigue, predominantly caused by the circadian low at the time of the incident and compounded by the effects of circadian dysrhythmia (jet lag). The concentration and reaction time of the master and OOW may also have been affected by these effects.
  • The handling characteristics of the ship, due to its load and trim at the time of the incident, made the handling of the ship more difficult than usual. The following flood tide and wind on the passage down the harbour would have accelerated the rate of turn which reduced the likelihood of success of the attempted corrective actions.

The report makes recommendations relating to pilotage and crew change practices.

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Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 532KB]
General details
Date: 17 January 2003   Investigation status: Completed  
Location: Bradleys Head    
State: New South Wales    
Release date: 08 February 2005   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Tauranga Chief  
Flag Malta  
IMO 9004505  
Type of operation General cargo/container ship  
Damage to vessel Minor  
Departure point Port Kembla, NSW  
Destination White Bay, Sydney NSW  
Last update 19 May 2016