The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a report following the death of the assistant engineer on board the 43m motoryacht Calliope in Sydney Harbour last year. The incident occurred as the yacht transited the Glebe Island Bridge on 8 February 2013, en route to a day cruise around the harbour. The report calls certain safety considerations into question.

Motoryacht Calliope. Source: ATSB

“As Calliope transited the Glebe Island Bridge, it was off course and veered towards the bridge structure,” the report explains. “To minimise any damage to the vessel, the crew attempted to walk a fender between the yacht’s hull and any possible points of contact. During this process, a crewmember leaning over the side of the yacht positioning the fender was caught between the yacht and one of the bridge-mounted fenders.” As a result, the crewmember was pulled over the yacht’s side and into the water. He was retrieved from the water four minutes later but died as a result of the injuries he had sustained.

“As the yacht moved through the bridge structure, the assistant engineer walked the fender aft until he reached the fashion plate,” the report details. “He leaned over the side and positioned the fender between the upper sponson rail and the bridge structure. He was distracted by what he was doing and did not notice that Calliope was closing on one of the bridge mounted fenders which was going to pass very close to where he was working.

Position of chief mate and assistant engineer prior to accident. Source: ATSB

“The steward immediately shouted ‘man overboard’. The master heard the call and shouted to a nearby small recreational boat for assistance. At about the same time, the chief mate made his way to the bridge to inform the master. He briefed the master and was given a mobile telephone and told to contact the authorities using the emergency triple zero telephone number.”

According to the crew, the use of the mobile telephone, rather than the VHF radio, was a conscious decision that was made to avoid disturbing and upsetting the owner, his guests and others who were present on the bridge when the emergency occurred. “This is not the first investigation the ATSB has conducted where the use of a mobile telephone rather than the recognised marine emergency radio system has been noted,” the report reveals. “The ATSB advises that the recognised marine distress systems should be the primary means of reporting emergencies.”

The ATSB also found that a passage plan for the voyage had not been completed and, therefore, the risks associated with the voyage were not appropriately assessed or communicated to the crew. It was also determined that, by operating the vessel from a remote control pendant from the port wing station, the captain could not reference navigational aids to monitor the yacht’s position as it transited the bridge. “Hence, he was not in a position to properly monitor the yacht’s progress,” the report noted.

Prior to the departure, the master calculated the tidal conditions for the intended transit through the bridge, but he did not consider the impact of daylight savings time. This resulted in an erroneous belief that the tide was just beginning to flood when it was actually just finishing the ebb. As a result, “the manoeuvre had not been planned and the tidal conditions were incorrectly calculated,” the report states.

Glebe Island Bridge. Source: ATSB

The report also concludes that Calliope’s SMS did not provide the crew with adequate guidance or contain specific requirements regarding passage planning, training and familiarisation. Individual crew familiarisation records and risk assessment forms were not retained or available at the time of the investigation on board the yacht and there was no documented system of auditing or checking to ensure the adequacy of the SMS and rectification of audit findings or the effectiveness of its implementation.

Calliope’s management company has told the ATSB that the vessel’s SMS procedures have been updated to require the completion of a passage plan for all voyages, and that procedures for transiting bridge openings will also be issued.

To read the full ATSB report, please click here.