Reference number
Date reported
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Concern summary

The concern related to the safety of vessels when they are berthed alongside a jetty in adverse weather conditions.

Reporter's deidentified concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern in relation to the safety of vessels while alongside the [location 1] berth in certain weather conditions.

The reporter advised that prolonged strong southeasterly winds with northeasterly currents create a very unsafe condition for ships at berth at [location]. The reporter cited a number of recent examples where these conditions existed resulting in mooring ropes failing under load:

  • [Vessel 1]: weather caused a mooring rope to fail, again almost hitting a crewmember’s head. The vessel was unable to stay alongside the berth and was moved to a safe place, dropping anchor at the northerly end of two islands.
  • [Vessel 2]: broke three headlines and one aft back spring while unberthing. One of these rope failures almost resulted in a crew member being struck in the leg when the rope grazed his knee. The AMSA report notes that the terminal can have auto-release (on-load release) arrangement but also says that it probably was not working.
  • [Vessel 3]: the night before unberthing, one rope failed due to vessel surging while alongside the berth with 45 kt winds and NE flowing current pushing the laden ship off the berth. The ship’s crew attended the mooring lines every 15 minutes tightening / slackening as required. This is a safety hazard for the crew as the ropes may fail under load with chafing due to the vessel’s surging movement.

Reporter’s comment: The safest and easiest procedure to reduce this hazard is to suspend the berthing of vessels (or remove them from the berth) if winds are expected to exceed a certain speed and direction, in combination with a NE flowing current. A longer term solution is to have tugs on site to assist keeping the vessel alongside and prevent the vessel breaking away during strong winds and a NE flowing current.

Named party's response

REPCON supplied Ports North with the de-identified report. The following is a version of their response:

The incident identified in the report triggered an investigation by Maritime Safety Queensland who has the lead responsibility in addressing maritime safety issues in the port. The investigation and consequential actions were completed in consultation with Ports North's marine pilots and the facility operator and lessee.

The Maritime Safety Queensland's Regional Harbour Master (RHM) identified changes in the port procedures, operational restrictions and infrastructure upgrades to address the risks identified in your report.

Safety is of critical importance to Ports North and we continue to work with the pilots, Maritime Safety Queensland's Regional Harbour Master and the facility operator to appropriately manage the operational safety risks.

Regulator's response

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ)

[Location] is an exposed port and subject to prevailing south-easterly trade winds which are augmented by a coastal sea breeze. A current setting in a north-easterly direction can reach in excess of 1 kt in strong south-easterly winds. There are no tugs available at the port, vessels are berthed by pilots employed by Ports North. Maximum size vessels that use the berth are limited to 195 m length overall (LOA) and 32.2 m beam, larger vessels may be approved by the Regional Harbour Master but cannot exceed 80,000 tonnes dead weight tonnage (DWT) due to the strength of the wharf.

Vessels are not berthed when winds are in excess of 25 kts from the south-east and less than 5 kts for the north unless line boats are available with a minimum bollard pull of 12 tonnes when winds can be gusting to 15 knots.

The berth has operated since 1987 with regular shipments of [cargo] to Japan and Korea. Annual shipments total in excess of 1.7 million tonnes.


[Vessel 1]

The mooring ropes parted during strong winds, vessel broke adrift at approximately 0230 hrs when wind gusted to over 40 kts and current was setting NE at 1.2 kts. The vessel parted all lines and was taken to safe anchorage by the master.

An AMSA surveyor attended the vessel and reported on the incident. Part of his investigation included a check of the vessel procedure and reporting on condition of the mooring lines. This indicated the lines were in good order and had been inspected regularly in accordance with the vessel owners approved policy. No damage was sustained by the vessel or the berth. Regarding a line ‘almost hitting a crew member’ MSQ had received no report of this alleged incident.

An investigation of this incident was also conducted by MSQ Regional Harbourmaster (RHM) (location 2) when the AMSA investigation was taken into account. Following this investigation recommendations were made, including amending the Port Procedures for the port of [location 2] to cover the berthage of ships during periods of adverse weather.

  • Port Procedures Manual - new clause 7.3.2

-   ‘When E to SE'ly gale force winds are forecast for the period a vessel may be alongside, the RHM will carry out a risk assessment prior to confirming that a vessel will berth. Should the weather conditions deteriorate unexpectedly while a vessel is alongside a further risk assessment may be undertaken by the RHM. If wind gusts exceed 40 knots engines are to be on stand-by. Moorings are to be tended at all times. Loading may continue’.

  • Vessel operating procedures to include increased frequency of mooring checks during increased wind and engines to be on ‘stand by’ for immediate use when wind exceeds 40 knots.
  • Port operator to consider maximum wind speeds or other weather conditions for the ship loader to remain in the hatchway.
  • Port operator to replace mooring hooks with quick release hooks to enable lines to be released in safety when under heavy load as may be experienced in strong to gale force winds and personnel cannot safely access moorings.
  • An exercise to be commissioned at Smartship Simulator to calculate loads on mooring lines for winds gusting over 40 knots and current from SE at 1.5 knots

[Vessel 2]

The mooring ropes parted as ship was ‘singling up’ to depart. This incident was not investigated by AMSA.

MSQ RMH (location 2) investigated the incident.

A risk assessment had been conducted by the RHM prior to the vessel berthing. The pilots (a check pilot and conducting pilot) discussed the forecast weather with the master and additional lines were run in case the weather deteriorated.

On departure, the wind was a south-easterly steady at 30 kts and gusting to 35 kts, and the current was from the south-east at 1 kt. Prior to departure, the pilot had held a tool box talk with shore linesmen and conducted a bridge resource management (BRM) discussion with the master and crew. It was noted that the temporary decking (still under repair from Cyclone Nathan) on some of the berthing dolphins had been displaced by the wind/waves.

The lines parted on departure when it could have been possible for a single line to be overloaded when subject to increased load as others were let go. The master, in his accident report to AMSA, made no mention of any injury to the chief officer or any other crewmember – however, the pilot on leaving the ship did ask the Chief Officer if he had been hurt and he replied ‘no’. (On a subsequent return, the pilot once again asked the chief officer if he had been injured - he responded in the negative.)

As a result of the investigation, further recommendations were made:

  • All quick release hooks to be replaced with new hooks incorporating remote release, those on dolphin 1 to be able to be released without persons on the dolphin.
  • All decking on mooring dolphins to be permanently secured.
  • RHM to further assess weather conditions for the proposed berthing and loading time - forecast wind not to exceed 35 knots. Should conditions deteriorate it may require the vessel to sail short loaded.

There were additional recommendations regarding operation of the transfer vessel for pilots and crew.

[Vessel 3]

The mooring line parted during a difficult departure. Winds had gusted up to 45 knots during the night when loading of the vessel was nearly complete. The master had followed instructions and had the crew tending the mooring lines. On departure, the wind was a south-easterly gusting to 32 kts with a current from the SE at 1.08 kts.

The pilot carried out an extensive toolbox talk with the shore linesmen and a thorough BRM discussion with the master and crew when he took them through a very carefully designed sequence of releasing the mooring lines to avoid any breakages. The vessel departed the berth without any further incident.

Prior to departure the pilot had inspected the mooring lines both ashore and on board and noted that where the lines passed through the roller leads on the vessel considerable chaffing had taken place.

In view of this chaffing and possible contribution to the lines parting, RHM has written to the port operator and ship's agents requiring the vessels to check the condition of all roller leads and panama leads to ensure they are free of rust and paint and where necessary lubricated to operate correctly.

RHM comment - [location 1] has operated continuously since 1987 without major incident. Weather conditions are carefully monitored prior to a vessel berthing - no vessels are berthed if wind is in excess of 25 knots.

2nd regulator's response

Response from AMSA

AMSA notes the comments of the Ports North and Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) as the two entities responsible for the safe operation of the port. With respect to the operations of the port, AMSA also notes that Ports Australia has recently published the ‘Australian Port Marine Safety Management Guidelines’ which should provide some guidance on appropriate measures to manage port operational risks.

With respect to ship safety, AMSA has a robust system of Port State Control (PSC) inspection of all foreign vessels operating to and from Australia. This system ensures that AMSA’s inspection resources are targeted towards vessels that are considered to be of a higher risk and has ensured that the vessels noted in the highlighted incident reports have been routinely inspected. Since mooring equipment is included in AMSA’s PSC inspection checklist, a check of this equipment is carried out during all PSC inspections. In the calendar year 2014, AMSA carried out 3,742 PSC inspections. While AMSA does not have a permanent presence at [location], inspectors are flown in on occasions when ships requiring a PSC inspection berth in the port.

ATSB comment

Maritime Safety Queensland have advised that further meetings have taken place with the operator of the mine and confirmed orders for new equipment and replacement navigation aids have been placed. Most replacements are scheduled to be completed by the end of September 2015.

The reporter suggested that the Moormaster Automated Mooring system would be the perfect system for this port, but the regulator has advised that due to the currents and exposure at this particular port, this system is not a viable option.