THE master of the fishing trawler Lady Cheryl, which hit Corsair Rock near Port Phillip Heads last March, was affected by alcohol and fatigue at the time of the incident, says a report by the chief investigator of Transport Safety.
The 27-metre trawler sank off Point Nepean at 1.20am on 24 March (pictured), spilling about 30,000 litres of diesel fue.
The master and four crew members recorded blood alcohol readings in excess of 0.05 in breach the trawler owner’s zero tolerance policy. All crew were rescued by Port Phillip Sea Pilots.
“The master was fatigued and had consumed a significant amount of alcohol, both factors contributing to his loss of situational awareness,” the report said.
It found the master had mistakenly altered the ship’s course believing the vessel had cleared The Heads. The master had been awake for about 18 hours at the time of the incident.
The report said the master did not make effective use of available shore-based navigation aids and equipment aboard the ship.
Ports Minister Denis Napthine said the report clearly showed that “human error caused by a severe lapse in judgement resulted in the sinking of Lady Cheryl”.
“Despite having a seaworthy vessel and an up-to-date safety management system in place, the crew ignored the vessel company’s zero alcohol policy and placed themselves and the environment at risk,” he said.
“The incident resulted in a resource-intensive response from various government agencies that worked around the clock over an extended period of time to ensure risks to the environment and to public safety were managed.
“We were extremely lucky this incident did not result in loss of life or major environmental damage to [Port Phillip].
“The government takes marine safety seriously and since this incident we have introduced a zero alcohol limit for commercial vessel operators and any operators under the age of 21.”
Dr Napthine said the report made recommendations on the management for the control of alcohol consumption and fatigue, and recommendations to the waterway manager to consider opportunities for expanding vessel traffic services to smaller vessels.
“This was an avoidable incident and one that we are diligent about not repeating in the future. We are focusing on improving marine safety and are actively on the water enforcing marine drug and alcohol laws,” he said.