TASPORTS has reopened the port of Bell Bay after the one-time pilot mother ship Wyuna, awaiting possible preservation, broke its moorings in the Tamar River on Tuesday morning [30 April].

The iconic vessel’s condition has been deteriorating for some time while the private owners – believed to be the Western port-based Victorian Maritime Centre – have tried in vain to find a permanent berth for the 71-year-old.

Wyuna drifted from its anchorage onto Long Tom Reef and then refloated before being secured by two Tasports tugs and taken to Bell Bay’s No 7 berth, where inspections are being undertaken.

TasPorts CEO Anthony Donald said TasPorts had raised concerns previously with the vessel’s owner representatives regarding the deteriorating condition of the vessel and the integrity of its mooring.

“TasPorts’ first priority is to ensure the safety of people, environment and assets, and while private moorings are a matter for vessel owners, it is a timely reminder of the importance of ensuring they are robust and safe.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the TasPorts’ towage crews, VTS crew, pilots, marine and lines teams, who responded swiftly and safely to the incident, securing the vessel without further harm.

“While at this stage it appears the quick response has mitigated potential harm, TasPorts is prepared in the event an oil spill response is required and we have offered to undertake a hull inspection to assess the integrity of the vessel.

“TasPorts remained in communication with customers impacted during the port closure, with the incident resulting in a delay to one inbound vessel to the Port of Bell Bay,” Mr Donald said.

Following inspection of Wyuna TasPorts will be guided by regulatory authorities regarding further security of the vessel to ensure the safety of the port, including Marine and Safety Tasmania and the Environmental Protection Authority.

The incident will add to the uncertainty over Wyuna’s future and follows an election pledge by the (now re-elected) Liberal Government to legislate to remove “the increasing problem” of derelict vessels in Tasmanian waters (DCN 7 March).

According to the VMC website, Wyuna was built in 1953 by Ferguson Shipbuilders of Port lasgow, Scotland for the Port Phillip Sea Pilots as a pilot cutter, sailing with pilots on board to meet ships entering Port Phillip Bay. Pilots would be transferred by the Wyuna’s workboat to the vessel requiring pilotage while it was stopped dead in the water, with shelter provided by the vessel itself.

In the early 1970s the pilot service started using fast launches to allow pilots to board while ships were still underway, and in 1979 Wyuna was sold to the Australian Maritime College and based at Beauty Point, Tasmania as a training vessel. It continued in that role until 2004 when sold to Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy Pty Ltd as an accommodation vessel but was donated to the Western Port Oberon Association for the Victorian Maritime Centre in September 2013. It has remained idle at berth or anchor in the Tamar since.