A timeline of events detailing a bulk carrier’s loss of engine power in heavy seas off Port Kembla, New South Wales, and the subsequent emergency response efforts to prevent the ship stranding on the coastline, is outlined in an Australian Transport Safety Bureau interim report.
The ATSB’s investigation into the incident is ongoing, and the interim report contains no analysis or findings, which will be detailed in a final report.
The interim report notes that the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Portland Bay was berthed at Port Kembla’s outer harbour when, shortly before 11 am on 3 July 2022, it was directed by vessel traffic service to depart and get a safe distance from the coast, due to heavy winds and swells in the region.
Early the following morning, the ship was in bad weather off the coast when smoke from the one of the main engine’s auxiliary blowers activated fire detectors.
After the crew stopped the blower, the master found that the engine rpm was unable to go above dead slow ahead (about 42rpm), irrespective of requested engine setting for higher loads. Subsequently, the master notified the ship’s managers of the situation as a ‘main engine failure’.
“After attempts to increase engine rpm proved unsuccessful, just before 7am Portland Bay’s master notified Port Kembla VTS (vessel traffic services) via VHF radio that the ship’s main engine had ‘failed’, that it was drifting towards the coast and requested tug assistance,” ATSB Director Transport Safety Stuart Macleod said.
“After one tug arrived from Sydney and struggled to assist, with tow lines parting on multiple occasions, another two tugs arrived later in the day as the ship drifted closer to the coastline,” Mr Macleod said.
Portland Bay’s master deployed both its anchors to anchor the ship about 1.4 miles from the coast south of Sydney at about 8:45 pm.
A fourth, larger tug with greater towing capabilities arrived from Newcastle at about 1 pm on 5 July. It was able to work with the other tugs to tow Portland Bay to berth in Port Botany the following day.
Following the incident, a team of ATSB investigators attended Portland Bay in Port Botany to collect relevant documentary and recorded electronic evidence, and to interview the master and the chief engineer.
The ATSB also obtained relevant evidence from Pacific-Basin Shipping, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Port Authority of New South Wales, Engage Marine, Svitzer Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology.
“As the investigation continues, we will review the ship’s activities and movements in relation to calling at Port Kembla and conduct further analysis of data from the voyage recorder to verify key event times,” Mr Macleod said.
The investigation will also review and assess the ship’s main engine maintenance and performance, including auxiliary blower operation.
“Emergency response, both on board the ship, and by authorities with respect to the State and National Plans, will also be reviewed,” Mr Macleod noted.
A final report, containing analysis, findings, and any potential recommendations or safety actions, will be released at the conclusion of the investigation.
“Should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate safety action can be taken.”