Machinery Failure is an Ever-present Possibility


The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) issued an investigation report on the foundering of the fishing vessel Venessa S at Cabbage Tree Island, New South Wales, on 20 June 2017, providing a description of what happened and important lessons learned to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The incident

On the afternoon of 20 June 2017, the fishing vessel Venessa S departed Port Stephens, New South Wales for Cabbage Tree Island. At approximately 1800, as Venessa S was approaching the island, the engine stopped and propulsion was lost. The skipper restarted the engine after several attempts, however it was too late to avoid striking the bank. Venessa Sstruck the bank and started taking on water. The skipper and crew abandoned into a tender and Venessa S sank shortly after. The skipper and crew were rescued by the local water police about an hour later with no reported injuries.

Figure 1: Section of navigational chart Aus 209 showing waters off Port Stephens


  • A loss of propulsion occurred at a critical point in the approach to the anchor position, leading to the grounding and subsequent foundering of Venessa S.
  • While unlikely to have prevented the grounding, the anchor was ready and available for use at the time of the engine stoppage.
  • The cause of the engine stoppage, while undetermined, was likely temporary and not a catastrophic failure.
  • The safety induction provided to the new crew members before departing almost certainly contributed to a safe and successful abandoning of the vessel in darkness.

Safety issues

Figure 2: Detailed section of navigational chart Aus 209 showing Cabbage Tree Island

  • The effect of a loss of propulsion should be among the factors taken into account when planning approaches or manoeuvring close to navigational hazards. Mariners need to consider the possibility of machinery failure as an ever-present hazard and have appropriate contingency plans in place. The use of the anchor, especially if it is prepared and ready, should be among the options considered to slow or stop a vessel running into danger.
  • The safe abandoning of the vessel highlights the importance of a thorough safety induction for new crew. In emergency situations, valuable time may be lost trying to find or operate life-saving appliances under trying circumstances. A well familiarised crew, proficient in the use of the ship’s life-saving appliances, increases the likelihood of a successful abandoning after an accident.

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