Captain Lutze signs off after 23 years as harbour master

THERE won't be any more sleepless nights for Mike Lutze, who on Monday started his first day of retirement after serving as Gladstone Harbour Master for 23 years and having enjoyed a maritime career spanning half a century.

Mr Lutze oversaw a rapid expansion of port facilities between 1991 and 2014 with more coal export facilities and the construction of LNG facilities on Curtis Island ramping up ship movements in the harbor to 33,000 per month.

"It was an absolutely nightmare for us," Mr Lutze recalled.

"You have to bear in mind that the majority of them were construction craft so they were the fast passenger catamarans along with the barges carrying all the equipment over to the island

"But the thing is that those catamarans are carrying 150 to 400 passengers so if we had an accident in the harbor with 400 passengers on board it's going to be pretty catastrophic.

"That was one of the things that kept me awake at night."

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Luckily ship movements on the harbor have decreased to about 20,000 ship movements per month, but at the height of construction the port was one of the busiest in the world and Lutze had to weigh up the needs to recreational vehicles with heavy industry all using the same harbor.

"I was firm from the start that yachties and recreational fishers had exactly the same rights as the industry to use the harbor," Mr Lutze said.

"Of course that made it challenging on weekends, but we got there in the end."

He said the fatality of Captain Dudley Jacobs in 2011 as a result of a tug rollover has stuck with him, but given the amount of ship movements he oversaw, he was proud of the safety record in the harbor.

"That was tragic, and any injury or loss of life is tragic," Mr Lutze said.

"But it's happened, and there's nothing you can do about it now so it did take a while to get over that but I did manage to get past that."

Leviathans and cigarettes: a life at sea

A 50-YEAR career tends to have a few highlights and lowlights, but when asked for the highlight of his career, Mike Lutze said simply having the trust of others to achieve mind-boggling feats was a reward in itself.

"I remember going on one of the first big ships I piloted here and it was a Chinese ship and it was 2'o clock in the morning," Mr Lutze said.

"[The captain] put this 238 metre ship, with 65,000 tonnes on it, he's given it to me and given it to me to pilot. He was totally relaxed about it, but he didn't know just how unrelaxed I was about the whole thing."

Mr Lutze said there had been a fair share of hair-raising incidents as well.

As I'm falling, I remember the last thing I told the ship to do was to start its engines.

About 15 years ago he recalls being called from his comfy bed as a ship had become detached from the wharf.

It was a stormy night and he was running up and down the wharf trying to get the ship back parallel to the wharf. That's when he fell nine metres down into the water.

"As I'm falling, I remember the last thing I told the ship to do was to start its engines," Mr Lutze said.

"The first thing I tried to do was get on the radio I had in my pocket and tell the ship to not turn on the propeller, only to realise that it was wet so it wouldn't work."

Luckily he got away before the propellers started. He was more annoyed, however, when he tried to light up a cigarette after the harrowing experience, only to find his smokes had also become wet.

Friday was Mr Lutze's last day on the job and far from being a tour of glory, he was forced to make some big calls.

"One of the last decisions I made was to close the harbour, which is something you never take lightly because of all the money being lost while ships are docked in the harbour," he said.

Captain Lutze's career

  • Started in 1963 as cadet officer
  • Became harbour pilot in 1977
  • Accepted regional Harbour Master role in 1991


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