Disabled Bulker Portland Bay Brought to Berth After Three Day Ordeal
A nearly 60-hour ordeal came to an end on Wednesday afternoon as salvage tugs were able to successfully bring the disabled bulker Portland Bay into port in Australia. Authorities and government officials are praising the efforts of the tugboat crews and the coordinated effort of multiple organizations to save the vessel and the 21 crewmembers on board.
After days of heavy weather along the southeast coast, authorities reported a break Wednesday morning which they believed provided a window of opportunity. The 28,446 dwt Portland Bay had remained at anchor approximately 1.2 nautical miles off Port Botany. Two tugs remained with the stricken bulker since they had been able to put her into a more sheltered area Monday night after efforts to tow it out to sea failed.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the crew of the first tugboat sent to assist the bulker described the conditions they faced. The captain said he selected the best vessel in their fleet but that they were tow boats not salvage tugs. Being the only one in the area, they had no choice but to attempt to assist their fellow seafarers. The tug, which had a captain, engineer, and a single deckhand, sailed out Monday morning into seas running nearly 30 feet with blowing, driving rain that limited their visibility.
Before the tug reached the powerless bulker they had already heard on the radio that the helicopter crews had abandoned their rescue efforts due to the weather and high seas which made it impossible to hoist crewmembers up from the bulker. The tug captain told the Sydney Morning Herald that when he reached the vessel it was just a quarter of a mile from the reef and less than a mile from the cliffs at the Royal National Park. They wedged the tug alongside the bulker attempting to stop its drift with the captain reporting that were “9-second waves,” meaning It took the tug nine seconds to fall from the peak to the bottom of the wave. They later attempted to tow the bulker away from the reef while parting multiple towlines. They, however, kept her off the rocks until they were joined by two more tugs later Monday that could help to reposition the Portland Bay.
The Ports Authority of NSW reported Wednesday morning that with the break in the weather commercial shipping was resuming at Port Botany as well as Port Kembla and Sydney. The Australia Maritime Safety Authority then issued an order for the 555-foot-long bulker to be towed into port.
At mid-day, the Ports Authority assisted in getting marine pilots out to the Portland Bay, but they pointed out the danger in attempting to board the bulker on the pilot's ladder in these weather conditions. They also transferred a marine engineer and a salvage expert to the bulker who assisted in a survey and finalizing the tow plan.
With a more powerful salvage tug having arrived from Newcastle, the decision was made to raise the bulker’s anchors and tow her into port. The operation took several hours but by mid-afternoon, they were safely alongside. The 21 crew aboard the Portland Bay was uninjured but the engineer on the first tug to assist did suffer a leg injury which the Sydney Morning Herald reports caused him to go to the hospital on Tuesday.
“I would like to acknowledge the heroic efforts of the towage crews who worked day and night to keep all aboard MV Portland Bay safe,” said Captain Philip Holliday, CEO of the Ports Authority NSW. “The professionalism and skill of the mariners involved were on display for the world to see in truly atrocious conditions.” He also acknowledged that “The master of the MV Portland Bay’s actions contributed to the success of keeping the vessel and his crew safe as part of the difficult operation.”
AMSA has now assumed responsibility for the next phase. They reported that two inspectors and a specialist lead investigator were boarding the Portland Bay at Port Botany. The vessel has been ordered to make necessary repairs and will be recertified by AMSA before it is permitted to depart.
The vessel’s owners Pacific Basin, headquartered in Hong Kong, issued a statement thanking the Australians for their efforts in protecting the crewmembers. The company said it would continue to cooperate with the authorities and support the investigation into what caused the vessel to lose power.