Investigation recommends better channel management
An investigation into the grounding of a ferry in the Ettalong channel in July last year has resulted in recommendations for better management of the channel by the government departments involved.
It also recommended the ferry operator improve its risk management, an action which it reported had been done.
The investigation into the grounding of the Fantasea Cruises vessel 8 Seasons was conducted by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations, with its final report being issued on November 29.
The report recommended that the Department of Industry Crown Lands develop a comprehensive ongoing maintenance plan for the dredging of the channel and that Transport for NSW support Department of Industry Crown Lands to develop that plan.
Transport for NSW was also told to facilitate continual communication between stakeholders and authorities to ensure the ongoing access and safe navigation for the channel.
NSW Roads and Maritime Services was also told to share data from its six-monthly hydrographical surveys of the channel with providers of marine public transport and to increase its surveillance of the status of the channel depth to ensure the lateral markers were positioned to enhance safe navigation.
According to investigators, since the grounding, Fantasea Cruising has reviewed, enhanced and documented a procedure of monitoring weather forecasts and developed parameters, such as the height of tide in relation to swell height and direction.
Fantasea masters were now required to assess this data before deciding to navigate the channel.
The report revealed that the ferry operator, Fantasea Cruising, first identified grounding hazards in the channel in 2014 and reported those hazards to AMSA, RMS, Transport for NSW, Department of Industry and the former Gosford Council.
According to the report, the company and RMS identified that the entrance was a navigation risk that required dredging.
Following incidents reported by masters, where vessels had touched the channel bed, the company facilitated a forum of stakeholders and channel inspection in March 2016.
The stakeholders meeting identified several issues including: the frequency of vessels touching bottom; the impact on maintaining safe operations; and the impacts on the company meeting contractual targets.
Topics discussed included channel silting, speed of tidal flow as the channel shallows, challenges in maintaining steerage when keeping to RMS four knot speed limits due to tidal flow, and overcrowding in the channel due to increased recreational vessel usage.
The meeting agreed that navigation dredging was required and that a collective government strategy was required.
According to the report, prior to the grounding an RMS boating map indicated the depth of the channel to be between two and five metres but ferry masters suggested this was inaccurate and advised their vessels regularly contacted the channel bottom at lower tides.
The company submitted to the investigators examples from April and June 2017 of service cancellations and consideration of alternate destinations, as risk controls.
"Prior to the incident, masters had expressed increasing concern that the sand bar was further encroaching into the navigable channel," the report said.
At 5:45 on July 27, 2017, the 8 Seasons was travelling from Palm Beach to Ettalong to begin its first scheduled passenger ferry journey of the day.
As the ferry neared the northern shore of Broken Bay, in the predawn darkness, it grounded on a sand bar within the channel leading to Ettalong.
While the ferry was grounded, a number of waves washed over the stern, onto the main deck.
The ferry was re-floated shortly after and the scheduled service to Ettalong diverted to Patonga wharf.
According to the final investigation report, the vessel's size was not a factor.
"While physically larger than the vessels it replaced, the 8 Seasons' shallow draft permitted navigation in "shallow esturine waters".
"The incident occurred on a flood (inbound) tide of 0.31m and the recorded swell was 3.56m and visibility was described as dark with minimal lighting of the eastern sky."
The report said the ferry was not carrying passengers at the time and was manned by the master and a general purpose hand.
According to the findings of the investigation, NSW Roads and Maritime Services was responsible for placement and maintenance of navigational aids along the channel.
"RMS, in a joint initiative with Department of Industry, conducted hydrographic surveys of the Ettalong Channel every six months.
"The local RMS boating services officer utilised data from the hydrographic surveys, reports from masters and visual inspections to determine if a lateral marker required repositioning."
However, it said, "data from the surveys was not directly shared with local users of the channel," it found.
Ferry Safety Investigation Report, 29 Nov 2018
Fantasea 8 Seasons Grounding, Broken Bay
Office of Transport Safety Investigations