THE Maritime Union of Australia has issued a statement that claims to “blow the whistle” on a series of purported engine explosions on tug boats at the Port of Gladstone during the past six month. It has accused the towage services provider Smit Lamnalco of putting safety at risk by outsourcing maintenance to a business without any marine qualifications.

Smit Lamnalco strongly refutes any allegation from the MUA that it is operating recklessly, or putting the safety of employees at risk.

In response to what it calls the MUA’s “continuing media duplicity”, Smit Lamnalco has issued a statement saying it was aware of three occurrences of major damage to Caterpillar 3516C engines in the Gladstone fleet since early 2018.

The MUA said local marine pilots had recorded a long list of serious incidents involving the tug boats, including engine failures, winch failures, steering failures, and issues with fire alarms.

“Three of the vessels are also not firefighting compliant, meaning they are unable to be the standby vessel for LNG tankers,” the MUA statement said.

Smit Lamnalco is working with Caterpillar, and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, in order to establish the root cause of the engine failures. It confirms that damaged pieces have been shipped to Caterpillar’s Lafayette, USA premises for forensic examination.

It also confirmed that the 10 contracted vessels within the Gladstone operation are LNG fire-fighting compliant and hold FiFi1 notation.


“The engine failures have all involved piston seizure and con rod failure, resulting in damage to the engine housing. The MUA’s assertion of an ‘explosion’ is sensationalist and misleading,” Smit Lamnalco said.

“A comprehensive risk assessment is in place for the continued operation of these engines whilst the failure investigation is underway. Workplace representatives, including health and safety representatives, participated fully in the construction of this risk assessment.

“There has been no instruction from AMSA to overhaul the engines,” Smit Lamnalco said.

It also refutes any suggestion that it is using unqualified contractors to maintain its engines.

“Maintenance is conducted by tug crew, assisted by numerous experienced, licensed and approved contractors. This is common practice within the Australian and global towage industries,” Smit Lamnalco said.

The MUA said workers held a protest outside Smit Lamnalco’s Gladstone office on the morning of 11 February to highlight their concerns.

In response, Smit Lamnalso said “there was no sign of any employee or union official being present, and no sign of any protest noted”.