Report on Grounding Months Overdue

The New South Wales report on how the Pasha Bulker ran aground was due over two months ago, but there is still no indication as to when it will be completed or why it is so late. This overdue report, as well as an article published by the Sydney Morning Herald on October 13 which states that the captain was eating breakfast when the ship ran into trouble, has incited many speculations into the cause of the grounding. One of the most widely-accepted possible causes is the lack of ballast water in the ship’s hold, making it difficult for the vessel to balance and thus precipitating its grounding. Apparently, the Pasha Bulker was one of 50 ships warned by Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) that its “load rates [were] far less than PWCS ship loading capacity,” partially due to the ship’s ballast unloading time. The warning went on to say, “From 7 June 2007 no new vessel applications will be accepted relating to these poor performing vessels.” This deadline was just a day before the Pasha Bulker grounded.

The 40,000-ton Pasha Bulker ran aground just before 10 AM Friday, June 8, at Nobbys Beach, Newcastle during high seas and gale force winds. The coal ship is owned by Japanese shipowner Fukujin Kisen Company and was chartered by Danish Lauritzen Bulkers that sublet the bulk carrier to another Japanese shipping business. The vessel was due to enter the Port of Newcastle on Tuesday, June 12, to load 58,000 tons of coal. The 22 members of the crew were safely airlifted from the vessel on the afternoon of the grounding and all that remained on board was 700 tons of fuel oil, 40 tons of lube oil, and 34 tons of diesel.

Worried that an oil spill could occur while the vessel was in rough seas, NSW (New South Wales) authorities had all of the vessel’s fuel pumped to tanks in higher portions of the ship. Salvage experts then waited for weeks for a king tide before trying to tow the Pasha Bulker off the reef, while oil pollution crewmembers and equipment stood at the ready. It was finally refloated on Monday, July 2 after two failed attempts. The Pasha Bulker was then towed into the Port of Newcastle on Wednesday, July 4, for more assessment and repair, where it sat for over three weeks until it was finally towed from Newcastle on Thursday, July 26. The bulker was towed out of the Port of Newcastle by 5 tugs to an anchorage area off the coastline, where it was met by the salvage tug, Koyo Maru, that then towed it to an undisclosed location in Asia for more repairs.

The three refloating efforts and all of the other salvage actions accrued a bill of more than $5 million. Once the present danger of the Pasha Bulker was removed, everyone was asking one question: Who is going to pay for it? Before the bulker had even been refloated, NSW Ports Minister Joe Tripodi stated that an insurance claim would be made to make sure that Australian taxpayers did not end up paying the bill. However, Tripodi’s concerns were at least partially assuaged when Fukujin Kisen released a statement on July 4 assuring that the taxpayers “will not pay for the exercise that freed” the vessel, but that the cost “would ultimately be resolved between the owners, the salvage company, the various authorities and insurers.” Residents still wonder if the company will make good on its statement. Some are concerned that the public will have to pay “ancillary” costs -- having government officials, police, port employees, and environmental authorities working on the operation and/or being on standby during the entire event.

These fears and the entire event caused some authorities to call for an investigation into why and how the vessel ran aground even though officials had directed it to move out to sea hours before the weather had completely deteriorated. As officials and residents alike await the official repot, nothing authoritative or substantive has come of the investigation as of yet, but it seems that the PWCS warning may be one more piece of the puzzle. Regardless of their worries, Newcastle residents recently enjoyed an exhibition of the pictures of the Pasha Bulker grounding on October 7.