Breaking News: Pasha Bulker Report Released

Pasha Bulker report released

The NSW Maritime investigation report into the grounding of the Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach in June was tabled in NSW Parliament today.

The Pasha Bulker ran aground during the once-in-thirty year storm that struck the Central Coast and Newcastle on June 8.

The same storm took nine lives and caused damage estimated to cost $1.35 billion.

Ports Minister Joe Tripodi said the investigation found the grounding of the Pasha Bulker was caused by a combination of horrendous weather conditions and poor seamanship by the Master of the vessel.

The poor seamanship involved his actions leading up to and on the morning of June 8.

This includes the mistake of failing to see the potential impact of the weather forecast of June 7 and 8, the decision to ride out the gale at anchor and not to ballast the ship for heavy weather.

While the investigation found the Master exhibited poor seamanship it also found the evidence would not be sufficient to prove the offence of negligent navigation. The standard of proof necessary to prove the offence is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

NSW Maritime applied the Prosecution Guidelines of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW in deciding not to prosecute the Master with negligent navigation.

“The Government will implement all the recommendations including bringing the seriousness of the Master’s actions to the attention of the authority that issued his qualifications,” Mr Tripodi said.

“The report also makes recommendations to help prevent similar incidents in the future.

“The Government accepts these and is already working on amendments to legislation.

“The response to the Pasha Bulker incident was conducted professionally with no loss of life, no grievous injuries and no damage to the marine environment,” he said.

Mr Tripodi thank ed NSW Maritime CEO Chris Oxenbould and the investigation team for their hard work in producing the report, and said he also looked forward to viewing the findings of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report, due soon.





What did the report investigate?

NSW Maritime investigated two marine accidents under the Marine Safety Act 1998 – the Pasha Bulker grounding and difficulties encountered by the Sea Confidence. The Betis, which also encountered difficulties, was outside state waters.


What happened to cause the grounding?

The investigation found the grounding was caused by a series of poor judgements and decisions made by the vessel’s Master, notably:

  • A failure to realise the potential impact on the Pasha Bulker of the weather forecast in the anchorage on 8 June;
  • An initial decision to ride out the gale at anchor and not to heed the caution within the Sailing Directions regarding suitability of the anchorage in the forecast weather conditions; and
  • A decision not to ballast the ship for heavy weather.

Why not prosecute the Master of the Pasha Bulker?

The investigation found there is some evidence the Master may have committed the offence of negligent navigation under the Water Traffic Regulations (NSW).

On examining the evidence and the elements of the offence that must be proven to the criminal standard, that is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, the likelihood of a successful prosecution is low.

Given this conclusion, and after applying the Prosecution Guidelines of the Office of the Director of the Public Prosecutions for NSW, NSW Maritime will not proceed to a prosecution.


What about weather warnings?

All ships received weather forecasts as early as 3 June, with at least 10 wind warnings issued, as well as routine weather forecasts via radio.

47 vessels left the Newcastle anchorage between 2200 on 7 June and 0700 on 8 June. By 7am on 8 June, nine ships remained including the Pasha Bulker, the Sea Confidence and the Betis.

The Master of the Pasha Bulker stated he was aware of the gale warning as early as 3 June, reviewed the forecast on June 7 and assessed the gale incorrectly as “very far away.”

While eventually attempting to head to sea at 7am on 8 June, he crucially left the bridge for breakfast at 8am.


What about the issue of ballast?

The report notes all three ships discussed were properly ballasted for fair weather and normal anchorage conditions. In terms of ballast, the issue was the failure by the Masters to take on sufficient extra ballast to deal with the weather conditions forecast for the anchorage.


What are the recommendations in the Report?

The Report makes a number of recommendations to help prevent similar incidents – all of which will be adopted:

  • For the Government to bring concerns over the Master’s performance to the authority that issued his qualifications seeking they be reviewed;
  • For NSW Maritime to investigate standard operating procedures for towing vessels in bad weather;
  • For NSW Maritime to review the Port Safety Operating Licence;
  • For the Marine Safety Act 1998 to be amended for higher penalties for negligent navigation offences involving seagoing vessels;
  • For NSW Maritime and the three NSW Port Corporations to review port limits and the management of anchorages;
  • That the Marine Pollution Act 1987 be amended to allow a direction to be made by transmitting it to a ship by any means and receiving acknowledgement by a person on the ship; and
  • That Newcastle Port Corporation introduces a procedure to check all communications recording devices are checked every shift.

How will the Government respond?

In implementing the recommendations, the NSW Government will bring forward legislation to:

  • Increase the penalty for negligent navigation of a Seagoing Vessel to $110,000;
  • Provide jail terms for negligent, reckless or dangerous navigation that causes death or grievous bodily harm; and
  • Provide the NSW Marine Pollution Controller with power to give verbal directions to ships.

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