Master convicted for delay in reporting tanker engine failure

Asphalt Spirit. Credit: HASENPUSCH. DIETMAR

When the 10,491 gt Marshall Island tanker Asphalt Spirit suffered engine failure off the Queensland coast en route from Korea to Australia on 31 January 2019, the master took six hours to report to authorities.

On 9 December, he pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to one count of failing to report a marine incident to authorities without delay under section 11(1) of the Protection of Sea (Prevention Pollution from Ships) Act 1983.

“The Asphalt Spirit suffered a main engine breakdown at 1600 h local time and began drifting 30 km northeast of Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) reported this week.

Yet the ship master only reported the incident via email just after 2200 h, six hours after the initial breakdown.

“Modelling predicted the possibility of the ship running aground at the southern end of the island within the next 17 hours if it continued to drift without power,” AMSA reported.

An emergency tug was called in from Brisbane. The ship master confirmed the engine damage could not be repaired at sea. Its insurers UK P&I Club contracted Svitzer to intervene. The tug Clontarf arrived later that day, secured the tanker, and towed it to Brisbane.

AMSA chief executive officer Mick Kinley said the conviction sent a clear message to the maritime industry that failure to comply with critical reporting requirements had serious consequences.

“Without intervention, the incident with the Asphalt Spirit could have been an environmental disaster. It goes without saying that the reluctance from the master and company management to report the incident to AMSA with the urgency that it warranted, is completely unacceptable,” Kinley said.

“Ship-tracking technology today means we will know exactly when a ship stopped one way or another and we will ask questions if it’s not reported,” he warned.

The master was fined USD3,000 and his conviction recorded.

Asked whether the master could be named and whether he was still in command of the vessel, which is back on the Australian coast, an AMSA spokesperson refused to give any identifying information.

In August 2019, the master of the freighter Thorco Lineage was convicted for failing to report engine failure prior to the vessel grounding on a reef in French Polynesia in 2018. Captain Lazaro Valenzuela was given a suspended sentence of one year’s imprisonment and shared a USD240,000 fine for the casualty with the ship’s operator.