Mode of transport
Occurrence ID
32º 55.2 S
151º 46.1' E
Brief status
Occurrence status
Occurrence date
Report release date
Occurrence category
West Basin berth 4, Port of Newcastle
Injury level

Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened

At 1015 Eastern Standard Time on 14 June 2018, a harbour pilot boarded a 180 m general cargo ship, off Newcastle. The ship was to berth at West Basin berth 4 in the port. Another ship, a Dredger, was already berthed there. The general cargo ship was to moor port side alongside the wharf, about 20 m astern of the Dredger.

At 1120, the general cargo ship was approaching berth 4 at minimal speed. The pilot pointed out an orange bollard near the wharf’s edge to the ship’s master (Figure 1). The pilot intended to line up the ship’s navigation bridge (bridge) with this ‘bridge marker’[1] to position the ship at the berth, clear of the Dredger.

Figure 1: Orange bollard (left hand corner of photo, and generic image – below right)

Figure 1: Orange bollard (left hand corner of photo, and generic image – below right)Figure 1: Orange bollard (left hand corner of photo, and generic image – below right)

Source: Pilot & ATSB

Shortly afterwards, the port officer on the wharf called the pilot via radio to advise him that the general cargo ship’s bridge was 20 m ahead of the bridge marker. The pilot was surprised as the orange bollard was still some distance ahead but he immediately ordered full astern on the ship’s main engine. He also ordered the assisting tugs to pull the ship away from the wharf.

However, at 1126, the ship’s bow contacted Dredger’s stern. Soon after, the ship moved clear of the berthed ship, and the pilot manoevered it into the correct position. This position was indicated by an orange cone that the port officer had placed on the wharf (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Orange cone (left hand corner of photo, and generic image – below right)

Figure 2: Orange cone (left hand corner of photo, and generic image – below right)Figure 2: Orange cone (left hand corner of photo, and generic image – below right)

Source: Pilot & ATSB

The orange cone was located much further back from the wharf’s edge than the bollard, which the pilot mistook for the bridge marker. As the bollard was closer to the Dredger’s stern than the cone, the general cargo ship got further ahead than it should have, and made contact with the berthed ship. The pilot did not see the cone until after the incident.

By 1146, the ship had been securely moored alongside the wharf in the correct position. Visual damage assessments indicated minor damage to both vessels – largely limited to paintwork.

Pilot’s comments

  • The orange bollard on the wharf appeared to have been placed there as a bridge marker with nothing to suggest any other purpose (for example, as a hazard marker).
  • The orange cone was located unusually distant from the wharf’s edge, where its small size and shadow made identification difficult.
  • The only information that alerted the pilot to the situation came from the port officer.

Safety action

As a result of this occurrence, the Port Authority of New South Wales has advised the ATSB that following safety action has been taken.

Traffic control cones used as bridge markers in the port have been fitted with strobe lights, which will be activated for both day and night berthing.

Internal investigation(s) to identify necessary measures to avoid a similar incident.

Safety message

The ATSB SafetyWatch highlights the broad safety concerns that come out of our investigation findings and from occurrence data reported by industry. Marine pilotage is one area of those safety concerns.This pilotage incident was the direct result of incorrectly identifying a marker as the bridge marker. Such incidents can be avoided by deploying conspicuous, identical bridge markers that are readily and unmistakably identifiable to the port’s pilots. Therefore, the size, colour and unique features of bridge markers, such as strobe lights, and effective communication between the pilot and person(s) responsible for deploying a marker are important considerations.


About this report

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.



  1. A bridge marker on the wharf is used to longitudinally position a ship alongside the wharf by lining up the ship’s bridge with the marker. The marker’s colour, size and other features depend on local practice but ready portability and high visibility is preferred, which makes traffic control cones (witches hats) or similar markers a common choice.
Vessel Details
Marine vehicle sector