Goliath cement ship was in wrong steering mode during crash that sank Tasmanian tugs, reports findings

An incorrect steering position was selected on a cement vessel when it unexpectedly accelerated and collided with two tugboats in northwestern Tasmania, causing millions of dollars in damage.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a preliminary report of the ongoing investigation into the collision between the commercial cement carrier Goliath and two stationary TasPorts tugs, York Cove and Campbell Cove, in the Port of Devonport in January.

Goliath was on a routine voyage from Melbourne with 17 crew on board when the ship’s captain felt it was “not lurching as expected” as it maneuvered a tight bend in the River Mersey.

In a dramatic few seconds, the captain attempted to stop the ship from moving forward by changing the steering setting, while being informed of the “rapidly decreasing clearances” between the ship and the tugs.

The Goliath just before hitting the two tugs.Supplied: TasPorts

According to the report, “as the ship’s speed continued to increase, the captain checked the rudder angle indicator located in front of the port wing console and found that both rudders were still amidships and not at the angles matching the VecTwin joystick setting as expected”.

In less than five minutes, the ship’s speed increased from 1.4 knots to 4.7 knots at the time of impact.

There were no crew members on board the tugs and no one was injured.

Three men at the scene of a tugboat accident.
The total cost of the bungle is unknown, but is expected to run into the millions of dollars.ABC News: Monte Bovilli

Shortly after the collision, it was determined that the steering mode selector switch on the steering console was in manual mode when it should not have been.

Just five minutes after the crash, TasPorts activated the port’s crisis and incident management teams, while port personnel began deploying oil spill response equipment and oil recovery booms around the two tugs.

Tugs York Cove and Campbell Cove submerged with Goliath ship in the background.
The tugs York Cove and Campbell Cove are submerged, with Goliath in the background.Supplied: ATSB

ATSB Commissioner Angus Mitchell said the investigation is still ongoing.

“The ATSB will review and assess the ship’s safety management system and navigation procedures, assess the effectiveness of the management of the bridge resources on board and previous incidents involving Goliath,” said Mr. Mitchell.

The tugs together had 69,000 liters of diesel and other oil on board.

Although much of the oil and diesel was contained, people and their pets were asked to stay out of the water between Devonport and Latrobe.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) launched a response and found at least one oil-infested bird, a cormorant, in the days following the collision.

The Goliath sustained minor damage and returned to service just under two weeks after the incident.

Two sunken boats.
The tugs together had 69,000 liters of diesel and other oil on board.Delivered: Peter Briggs

Repair tugs in progress

The total cost of the piece is unknown, but TasPorts said replacing the tugs, repairing the wharf, which was also damaged, and salvaging the tugs would cost in the millions of dollars.

The salvage operation to remove the sunken tugs from the river, described as one of the most complex undertaken in Australia in recent years, is in its final stages.

Cormorant affected by oil spill.
A cormorant affected by the oil spill.ABC News: Monte Bovilli

Specialist salvage divers and barges from the mainland were deployed to remove the wrecks.

Both are expected to be lifted from the river by crane later this month and transported to Bell Bay.

A number of restrictions, including speed limits, are in place for large commercial vessels operating close to the wreck, including the Spirit of Tasmania ferries.

A final report from the ATSB, which will include detailed analysis and findings, is likely to be handed over later this year.

The ATSB said relevant parties will be notified if critical security issues are identified.

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