Gale fail

TUG boat engineers say Fremantle Ports should have been on gale watch Sunday after wind speeds at Rottnest Island rose earlier in the day.

Fremantle Ports blamed a sudden wind gust about 10pm Sunday for pushing two ships into the already battered Fremantle traffic bridge. Captain Allan Gray says the bollard the ships were tied to gave way and sank after winds of up to 110kmh lashed the port.
But the Australian Institute of Marine Power Engineers says the writing was on the wall by about noon when winds at Rottnest increased from 15 knots (28kmh) to 23 knots (43kmh).

“The harbour master should have had the tugs on gale watch,” national organiser Andrew Williamson told the Herald.

“Had a gale watch been put in place the crews on the tugs would have been on standby.”

Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk wants a full investigation into the incident she says could have been much worse. She says the harbour master never issued a gale alert, despite heavy weather forecasts issued publicly throughout Sunday: “The gale alert means tug boat operators are required to be on standby at the port should they be needed at short notice,” she said in parliament this week. That alert wasn’t issued, which means that the tugs weren’t available, including at 10pm when the first vessel broke away.”

A third car carrier almost pulled away but by then tugs had been deployed to secure it in place. The two tugs in port at the time were partially staffed, but Fremantle Ports says even if they were fully staffed they would not have been able to get to the drifting ships.

Fremantle Ports says the harbour master was operating under a strong wind warning on the day, up to 30 knots or 56kmh.

“We didn’t have a gale warning because we weren’t expecting 110kmh winds,” spokesperson Ainslie de Vos told the Herald. “Usually winds will build up but this happened very quickly.

“Winds throughout the day were consistently below 20 knots right up to the adverse weather event at which point the winds went to almost 60 knots.”

In parliament, discussion over the collision ended in a shouting match when Ms McGurk questioned transport minister Dean Nalder over the bridge’s safety.

She’d claimed Mr Nalder had effectively agreed that measures in place to stop marine vessels hitting Fremantle rail bridge were inadequate. Mr Nalder had said the shoal water in place to stop big vessels getting close to the rail bridge in storm surges had failed, against all predictions: “Our bridge systems alongside the Fremantle Port are inadequate, and dangerous,” Ms McGurk warns. “Mr Nalder continues to refuse to answer why the Barnett government took nearly $80 million allocated by the previous Labor government to a new traffic bridge for Fremantle, and instead have embarked on a series of expensive patch-up jobs on the fragile bridge.”

Mr Nalder’s office says the primary focus is to get this rail bridge up and running again as quickly as possible. Herald sources say this could take up to a month.


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