AUSTRALIAN Pilotage Group’s lack of systems for rounding Hovell Pile, combined with directions from the harbour master that “lacked clarity”, have been identified as factors in an incident in South Channel, Port Phillip, in August 2018.

The incident involving car carrier MV Tomar, piloted by Australian Pilotage Group, and box ship MV CPO Jacksonville, piloted by Port Phillip Sea Pilots, occurred in the early hours of 12 August, 2018 and saw the two ships come to about 130 metres of one another.

Tomar was bound for Port Kembla while Jacksonville was heading the other way towards Melbourne.

According to the Office of the Chief Investigator – Transport Safety, shortly before 3.10am, Tomar began its turn to starboard to round Hovell Pile and travel west along South Channel towards Port Phillip Heads.

At the same time, the inbound container ship Jacksonville was travelling east along South Channel, approaching the Hovell Pile turn.


Soon after, Tomar was at the southern-most point of its turn, about 100metres from the edge of South Channel on its port side. At this point, Tomar was fine on the port bow of the approaching Jacksonville that was at a distance of about two kilometres.

Concerned at the location of Tomar, the Jacksonville pilot delayed changing course to port and steered the ship to within 40 m of the southern edge of South Channel.

Tomar maintained its turn to starboard and moved back towards the north side of the channel as Jacksonville maintained its course. At about 03.15am the ships passed port-to-port about 130 m apart (shipside to shipside).

According to the Chief Investigator, “there was no documented plan agreed between pilot and master for the manoeuvre of Tomar around Hovell Pile.

“The Australian Pilotage Group did not have systems in place to assure that its pilots were provided with a documented plan for rounding Hovell Pile,” the Chief Investigator found.

The Chief Investigator also found the Harbour Master’s directions for ships converging at Hovell Pile “lacked clarity, probably reducing the effectiveness of this risk control”, albeit this was not a direct contributor to the incident.

Investigators noted changes had already occurred, including:

  • The development and implementation of an Integrated Management System by Australian Pilotage Group
  • Crew training by Tomar’s ship management, using this occurrence as a case study
  • An update of Harbour Master’s directions for vessels converging at Hovell Pile.

“Agreeing and clearly defining intended ship manoeuvres is essential to allow pilots and ship’s crew to monitor a ship’s course and take corrective action as and when required,” the Chief Investigator found.

“Australian Pilotage Group advised that safety actions include the development and implementation of an Integrated Management System and compliance with international quality assurance standards,” it stated.

“Within its IMS, guidance has been included on the pilotage of ships around Hovell Pile.” The incident occurred in the context of the introduction of pilotage competition in Port Phillip Bay earlier in the year.