A SEARCH has located up to 37 containers lost from the deck of a Liberian-flagged cargo ship into the sea off Port Stephens during wild weather in June, but up to 42 containers are yet to be found.
The bulk of the located containers are in an area relatively close to where the YM Efficiency reported it had lost cargo on June 1, about 30 kilometres south-east of Newcastle.
But containers and debris located on the final day of a six-day search at least six nautical miles north of where the incident occurred showed more containers and debris could be found closer to Stockton Beach as the search continues. The search area covers 90 square kilometres.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the YM Efficiency’s insurer, Aus Ship, and owner Yang Ming had agreed to continue the search for the missing containers using the contracted Port of Newcastle surveying vessel JT Gowlland.
AMSA has released exact positions of confirmed containers, damaged containers and debris to fishers and released an updated Notice to Mariners warning of the possible hazards.
An Australian Transport Safety Bureau preliminary investigation of the incident noted YM Efficiency was due to arrive at Port Botany at noon on June 1. But the ship was forced to “drift” off the Newcastle coastline from 1pm on May 31 after advice of an eight-hour delay in its Port Botany docking time.
The ATSB report noted the cargo ship’s engines were re-started for brief periods over a number of hours to maintain some control over the draft, and as weather conditions worsened.
About one hour after 11.30pm, when the ship was able to resume heading to Port Botany, it experienced a period of “quick, heavy rolling for about 60 to 90 seconds” which caused engineering alarms to sound and the main engine to shut down.
“The second officer reported hearing loud noises on deck and suspected that there had been some cargo damage. He turned on the ship’s deck lights and observed that containers had been damaged and possibly lost overboard from the bays aft of the accommodation,” the ATSB report found.
The investigation confirmed YM Efficiency was loaded with containers at the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung on May 13 as part of a regular service calling at ports in China, Taiwan and Australia.
By 9.30am on May 30 when the ship was north-east of Coffs Harbour it received a weather forecast of steadily increasing winds and seas into the following day.
“Between 9.30 and 11.30 that morning, in preparation for the expected heavy weather, the chief officer was charged with carrying out checks in accordance with the ship’s heavy weather checklist. This included a check to ensure that container lashings on deck were secure, which was subsequently completed,” the ATSB noted.
The incident off Newcastle resulted in 81 containers being lost overboard, with damage to another 62 containers and structural damage to the ship’s gangway, superstructure and lashing bridges.
The ATSB final report is not expected until early 2019. Its investigation will include analysis of the ship’s container stow and lashing arrangement, the ship’s stability condition, actions of the ship’s officers and crew following the incident and analysis of weather conditions at the time of the incident.