Marine safety investigations & reports

Grounding of Iron Baron on Hebe Reef

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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On the morning of 10 July 1995, the Australian operated 37,557 tonnes deadweight bulk carrier Iron Baron arrived and anchored off the entrance to the River Tamar, Northern Tasmania. The ship was bound for the TEMCO terminal at Bell Bay, where it was to discharge 23,896 tonnes of manganese ore. The Master was advised that the Pilot would board at 1930.

When the crew went to stations to weigh anchor at 1900, the wind was from the north-north-west at 20 to 25 knots. The anchor was aweigh at 1913 and, after turning the vessel around, the Master manoeuvred the ship, at minimum manoeuvring pitch on the propeller, towards the pilot boarding position. So as to maintain a lee on the port side for the pilot launch, he adjusted the heading from south-south-west to south-west.

The Pilot boarded at 1933 and as soon as the launch was clear of the ship's side, the Master, aware that he had overshot the boarding position, ordered the wheel hard to port and the telegraph dead slow ahead, to bring the ship around on to the leads.

After an exchange of information with the Master, the Pilot ordered full ahead, to increase the rate of swing, and went to the port bridgewing, to check the lie of the leads. Using binoculars, he saw that the ship was too far to the south and likely to run aground on the eastern end of Hebe Reef. He therefore ordered hard to starboard, hoping to clear the northern edge of the reef. However, after turning through about 40, the ship grounded at a speed of about five knots, in a position 1.8 cables (333 metres) north of Hebe Reef beacon.

Attempts were made to refloat the ship, initially by going full astern and later with the aid of a tug, but these were unsuccessful. With the tide ebbing and the weather deteriorating, the movement of the ship became violent and progressive damage to the bottom plating became evident, with a number of tanks being ruptured.

When fuel oil was seen in the water, the Master mustered the crew and ordered the disembarkation of some of them, eventually ordering the disembarkation of the remainder at about 0645 on 11 July. Iron Baron was eventually refloated by salvors on 16 July. After extensive inspection of the vessel, both internally and externally by divers, and discussions with the Launceston Port Authority, the decision was made that Iron Baron should be scuttled. The vessel was towed to the position 39 37S 149 25E, 60 miles east-north-east of Flinders Island, where it was scuttled in 4000 metres of water on 30 July 1995.


These conclusions identify the different factors contributing to the incident and should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular individual or organisation.

It is considered that by the time the Pilot arrived on the bridge and assumed control of the conduct of the vessel the grounding could not be avoided.

The following factors are considered to have contributed to Iron Baron grounding on Hebe Reef:

  1. A full passage plan, detailing safe clearing distances and bearings to be used while picking up the Pilot, had not been prepared, and proper management of the bridge resources had not been considered.
  2. Due consideration was not paid to the effects of the strong northerly wind and south flowing flood tide when manoeuvring to pick up the Pilot.
  3. The vessel's progress was not monitored by plotting positions on the chart.
  4. Although navigating by radar, no safety distances or bearings were drawn on the reflector plotter.
  5. The Mate did not monitor the Master's actions nor did he check the vessel's position by radar.
  6. In relying upon the radar for information on the vessel's position, the Master
    a) was initially under the impression that Iron Baron was a mile further from the pilot boarding point than would have been the case.
    b) appears to have made no allowance for the fact that the beacon is located on the south side of the reef, that the shallows extend 2.5 cables north-east of the beacon and that the vessel's bow, 150 metres forward of the bridge, reduced the indicated distance off the reef by almost one cable.
  7. The Master and the Deck Officers had not been given specific directions that passage planning was to include pilotage sections.
  8. Although the Master was appropriately qualified, he had not been provided with all available training for the safe handling of ships before being appointed to his first command.
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General details
Date: 10 July 1995   Investigation status: Completed  
Location: Off Lauanceston    
State: Tasmania    
Release date: 05 December 1995   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Vessel Iron Baron  
Flag Aus  
IMO 8323745  
Type of operation Bulk carrier  
Damage to vessel Substantial  
Departure point Groote Eylandt, Gulf of Carpentaria  
Destination Bell Bay, Tasmania  
Last update 19 May 2016