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    Yesterday in Newcastle
    From: Peter Fogg
    Date: 2007 Jun 10, 20:34 +1000

    We've just had a good southerly (storm) here. Among all the other
    destruction and mayhem, a ship has been pushed onto the beach at
    Newcastle, the second biggest city in the state of New South Wales and
    a major port, about 100 miles north of Sydney.
    
    A correspondent from another state wrote to me:
    > I caught a snippet of an interview with the manager of the shipping company
    > who insisted that the crew had done nothing wrong.  It had full anchorage
    > etc - it had just been the power of the sea at the time which forced it to
    > break its moorings and sweep it towards land.  Who really knows, but I could
    > believe that might be the case.
    
    And I answered:
    The story that we've been hearing is that the Port Authority of
    Newcastle warned and re warned the 50 odd ships that are more or less
    permanently (individual ships are filled and leave and are replaced)
    sitting just off the coast (sometimes for weeks at a time) waiting to
    load coal (a capacity constraint of our economy that depends on this
    major export) that the wild weather was coming and that they should
    weigh anchor and stand well out to sea.
    
    For boats this is elementary common sense: in bad weather the safest
    place is out in the open ocean. Close to shore is dangerous.
    Particularly when the full force of the wind and waves is doing its
    best to push the boat onto the land.
    
    All but eleven of these ships took the advice and left. Of those
    eleven, two got into serious trouble. One spent an anxious day or so
    clawing itself off Stockton Beach just to the north of Newcastle. At
    one stage I heard it was only 700 metres from the beach, but
    eventually it was able to regain safer sea room under its own power.
    
    This other didn't make it. People living in the Newcastle beachside
    suburb of Merewether could see black smoke billowing from its stacks
    as it loomed into their sight through the driving rain, just offshore,
    running its motors full ahead and fighting to keep its nose pointing
    into the weather, but the 50 knot winds and the 18 metre swells
    overwhelmed its efforts and pushed it onto a reef just offshore of
    Nobby Beach, Newcastle's main surfing and recreational beach.
    Incidentally, the local surfers have been quick to speculate about
    whether its bulk will now improve the waves there.
    
    The other factor that may have been fatal is that this boat
    disregarded the Port Authority's advice for the ships to take on
    sea-water ballast. If it had it would have been sitting deeper in the
    water, its screws would have had better 'bite' and the vast bulk of
    the ship would have been less affected by the wind and waves.
    
    The Port Authority has no power to order ships' behaviour (although
    they are under the command of the PA's pilots coming into and out of
    port) while out at sea, although that is now being looked at.
    
    Apparently this ship didn't want to lose its place in the coal loading
    queue. Or be bothered, having pumped out all its sea ballast in
    readiness for loading coal, to fill its holds again. The crew
    consisted of two Korean officers and 15 Filipino ratings. It was a
    brand new ship operating under a 'flag of convenience', meaning that
    the standards of its operation were the minimum, far below the
    standards that Australian shipping lines have to comply with. The
    maritime union has said, quite justifiably, that it was an accident
    that was waiting to happen, and that it has been warning for years
    that such an incident was likely to be the result of the federal
    coalition's (our present right-wing rulers) determined efforts to
    break the power of the maritime union and encourage such 'flag of
    convenience' ships to operate in Australian waters - even for coastal
    trade, which was previously virtually restricted to Australian
    operators.
    
    >
    > This ship may not have much damage to it.  However, I believe that salvage
    > companies have a low retrieval rating of freeing ships like this that are
    > firmly wedged into sand.  They are difficult to free because of the suction
    > forces, the ship itself has no power, and the logistical difficulty in
    > moving sand under water.  If they can't shift it after removing all cargo
    > and fuel, saying a few prayers and pulling with a few dirty big tugs at high
    > tide, then there's a strong chance that it will end up as scrap.  A sad end
    > to a ship in my opinion.  Remember the Cherry Venture?
    
    There is another ship called the Sygma that still sits rusting on
    Stockton Beach as the result of another good storm years ago. The
    immediate problem is the 700 tonnes of fuel oil and other pollutants
    sitting within this one on Nobbys Beach. Helicopters have been loading
    pumps and other equipment onto it. Stay tuned.
    
    It was certainly a good storm. Apparently it was the biggest we've had
    in 30 years, and its true that when we were living at Bondi Beach
    about 30 years ago we saw a few good storms. This one was not just
    severe but it lasted for about 36 hours, much longer than most. We
    drove and walked along the beaches of the Eastern Suburbs today. Parks
    are covered in leaves shredded from trees, the roads near the beaches
    lie under sand drifts that are being cleared; everywhere there are
    signs of damage to anything at all fragile left to the mercy of the
    weather.
    
    And wouldn't you know it? As always, it seems, after what seems like
    good rain, comes the news that little enough of it has fallen within
    our water catchment area in the Blue Mountains just beyond the coastal
    plain. Annick says they have obviously put the dam in the wrong place.
    It needs to be on the coast. Maybe we could put a dam wall across the
    Heads, the entrance to Sydney Harbour, and wait for this new huge dam
    to fill with fresh water.
    
    Within the 3rd photo can be seen people on deck, gesticulating to the
    hovering helicopters ...
    
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