Marine safety investigations & reports

Independent investigation into the grounding of the Isle of Man registered bulk carrier Iron King at Port Hedland, Western Australia, on 31 July 2008

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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At 2142 on 31 July 2008, the fully laden cape-sized bulk carrier Iron King departed from its berth in Port Hedland, Western Australia, with a harbour pilot on board.

Iron King made its way through the harbour and while the assisting tugs had been let go by 2217, just before the ship reached Hunt Point, they continued to escort it. Shortly afterwards, at 2219 and again at 2221ΒΌ, the ship's rudder failed to respond to port helm orders as the pilot attempted to steady the ship's heading on the Spoil Lead.

The master switched the steering control switch between the two follow-up control systems and informed the pilot that steering control had been restored. The ship was still turning to starboard, so the pilot ordered full ahead and hard-to-port in an attempt to keep the ship in the channel and thus avoid grounding. He also directed the tugs to make fast to the ship as soon as possible. However, the tugs were unable to provide much assistance and by 2225, the ship had collided with Beacon 44 and grounded.

The ship remained aground until the next high tide, when it was successfully refloated.

The investigation found that the steering gear failed to respond to the helm orders because a leaking actuator relief valve was limiting the steering system hydraulic pressure. It was also found that; it was normal practice for assisting tugs to be let go before departing ships reached Hunt Point; the pilot directed the tugs to make fast to the ship again, but they were unable to do so before it grounded; the master was not aware of the appropriate emergency steering system change-over procedure; and the pilot had not been provided with training in the implementation of a suite of 'risk analysed' responses to predictable emergency scenarios in a simulated environment.

A number of safety actions have already been taken by relevant parties to address these safety issues. In addition, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has issued one Safety Advisory Notice.

Download Final Report
[Download  PDF: 2.74MB]
General details
Date: 31 July 2008   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: UTC +8   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Port Hedland    
State: Western Australia    
Release date: 13 October 2009   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Iron King  
Flag Isle of Man  
IMO 9108300  
Type of operation Bulk Carrier  
Damage to vessel Minor  
Departure point Port Hedland, South Australia  
Last update 03 April 2020