THE grounding of a coal ship last year could lead to increased use of tug escorts in Gladstone Harbour.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau released its report on Monday on the grounding of the coal ship Dumun in April, 2011.

The investigation found the ship's steering appeared to fail when the rudder angle indicator on the bridge did not move despite the helmsman turning the wheel.

However, investigations showed the steering was functioning normally, but the bridge team assumed it was not, because the indicator had failed.

The investigation found a link arm between the tiller and the rudder indicator had become disconnected.

Among other recommendations, the report suggested some of the measures being planned for LNG ships in the near future could be applied to coal ships and other bulk carriers.

It said Maritime Safety Queensland could consider running more tug escorts with coal ships for a longer distance from the port.

Coal ships are escorted by two tugs from the port to the G4 marker in the harbour, and then continue unescorted to the Fairway marker at the harbour entrance.

However, LNG ships will be escorted by four tugs from the port to G4 and two from G4 to the Fairway marker.

"While the image of an LNG carrier grounding in a port is an emotive one, the likely negative outcomes associated with such an event are the same as those that are likely to occur as a result of a bulk carrier grounding," the report said.

The report calls on Maritime Safety Queensland to examine ways to improve its procedures. An MSQ spokesperson yesterday said the organisation would take on board any recommendations from the ATSB.

"Maritime Safety Queensland takes the safety of coastal shipping and the protection of the coastal environment extremely seriously and we have well established procedures in place to respond to incidents such as this," the spokesperson said.

"The recommendations made by the ATSB are being closely examined by Maritime Safety Queensland and will contribute to our ongoing review of safe handling of ships from departure readiness to pilotage operations."

the ATSB report found MSQ had done several things right throughout the Dumun incident, but some imporvements could be made.

ATSB Surface Safety Investigations general manager Peter Foley yesterday confimred revising the use of tug escorts would be one possible improvement. "The ATSB has recommended that MSQ takes further action to address the issue of contingency planning for events such as engine or steering gear failure on board deep draught bulk carriers," Mr Foley said. "One of the options discussed in the report and the subject of a previous ATSB recommendation is the use of escort tugs for these ships. This is one possible way to address this risk but there may be others which MSQ could implement and hence the broad nature of the recommendation."

"(Pages 20-21) of the ATSB report discuss the pilotage system which was used in Gladstone at the time of the grounding and more broadly what comprises a safety management system for pilotage. While there was a standard system in use by Gladstone pilots at the time of the Dumun grounding it was not a comprehensive pilotage SMS supported by documented procedures and a process of risk analysis. MSQ have taken steps to develop and implement a single standard SMS covering all their ports including Gladstone."       

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