THE master of a tanker ship has been convicted after failing to report “without delay” a main engine breakdown off Queensland.

The incident dated back to Thursday 31 January 2019 when the Asphalt Spirit was en route from Korea to Australia carrying 14,000 tonnes of asphalt.

The ship suffered a main engine breakdown at 4pm local time and began drifting 30km northeast of Point Lookout, a hamlet on North Stradbroke Island.

The ship’s master reported the incident via email to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) just after 10pm that night – six hours after the initial breakdown.


Modelling predicted the ship could run aground at the southern end of the island within the next 17 hours if it continued to drift without power.

AMSA, meanwhile, prepared to intervene with an emergency tug from Brisbane.

The ship’s master responded to AMSA at 1.30am on Friday, 1 February and confirmed it was impossible to repair the engine damage at sea.

After talking to experts, the Asphalt Spirit’s insurer UK P&I Club entered into its own commercial arrangement with Svitzer who tasked its tug Clontarf to intervene. Clontarf arrived later that day, securing the Asphalt Spirit and towing it to Brisbane.

In December the master pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court to one count of failing to report a marine incident to authorities without delay.

He was fined $3000 and a conviction was recorded.

AMSA chief executive Mick Kinley said the conviction sent a clear message to the maritime industry that failure to comply with critical reporting requirements had “serious consequences”.

“The responsibility to report a marine incident to authorities without delay and the consequences for failing to do so, ultimately rests on the shoulders of the ship’s master,” Mr Kinley said.

“We have reporting requirements in the maritime industry for a reason. Authorities need to know if you are in trouble so they can provide assistance where possible to resolve the problem before it leads to a catastrophe.

“Without intervention, the incident with the Asphalt Spirit could have been an environmental disaster. It goes without saying that the reluctance from the master and company management to report the incident to AMSA with the urgency that it warranted, is completely unacceptable.”

Mr Kinley said failure to report a marine incident without delay placed the safety of ships and crew, as well as the marine environment, at further risk.

“The Australian coastline is huge and assets such as tugs may take time to arrange,” he said.

“We understand that ships can break down from time to time and we will always support responsible operators who report these incidents and who are taking the necessary steps to undertake repairs or arrange a tow.

“Ship tracking technology today means we will know exactly when a ship stopped one way or another and we will ask questions if it is not reported.”