Portland Bay cargo ship towed to safety after losing power off Garie Beach, NSW


Breakthrough as adrift cargo ship is finally towed to safety after a heartstopping rescue attempt by a hovering helicopter failed in monster seas

  • Stranded cargo ship finally towed to safety after heartstopping rescue attempts
  • Incident controller said Portland Bay vessel was in a ‘stable, anchored’ position
  • Rescue operation is expected to continue into the night after mission put on hold
  • Attempts to secure ship and 21 crew members were hampered by wild weather

A stranded cargo ship has finally been towed to safety after a daring rescue attempt was hampered by dangerous conditions.

The Port Authority of NSW said the Portland Bay vessel was under tow by three Engage Marine tugboats after a ‘successful extraction’ of its two anchors.

The Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier lost power about one kilometre off Garie Beach in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney, leaving 21 crew members stranded in massive seas on Monday morning. 

Incident controller John Finch said the vessel was in a ‘stable, anchored position’ during a press conference on Monday afternoon.

‘We’ve got two tugs in attendance, two anchors deployed, we’ve got a third that will be arriving in the next 15 or 20 minutes,’ he said. 

A stranded cargo ship (pictured) has finally been towed to safety after heartstopping rescue attempts were hampered by powerful surf

‘There was an initial plan this morning to evacuate the non-essential staff but once the vessel deployed its anchors and it was in a stable condition it was no longer drifting towards the rocks, the master asked to keep his crew on board. 

‘At this point in time they’re confident they can make an engine repair once they get into safe, deep water.’ 

Earlier, a rescue helicopter and aircraft were deployed to evacuate eight non-essential crew from the ship, along with several tugboats sent from Port Botany. 

The rescue operation is expected to continue into the evening as the east coast is pummelled with non-stop rain, powerful surf and strong winds.

The ship is expected to enter safer waters in two to three hours and will be repaired – with crew members suspecting a main turbo engine blower has failed. 

‘If that is the case and there’s no further issues it should be a fairly straightforward repair, they’re saying four to six hours,’ Mr Finch said. 

The rescue comes after experts estimated the ship was carrying about 1000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and would trigger an ‘ecological disaster’ if it were to run aground.  

Authorities have sent two tugboats to steer the boat away from the coast after fearing it would hit the cliffs of the Royal National Park

Authorities have sent two tugboats to steer the boat away from the coast after fearing it would hit the cliffs of the Royal National Park

The Portland Bay cargo ship was spotted battling rough seas offshore from Royal National Park

The Portland Bay cargo ship was spotted battling rough seas offshore from Royal National Park

Footage from Surf Life Saving NSW showed a rescue helicopter circling the ship as it battled powerful waves off the Illawarra coast. 

‘It’s a tricky situation, with tower cranes on the ship interfering with any winching attempts,’ Surf Life Saving tweeted on Monday afternoon. 

There were fears the 169m bulk carrier was in danger of running aground or drifting into the Royal National Park cliffs.

A second tug boat arrived on scene around 2pm in a desperate effort to bring the vessel under control and push it further out to sea.

Rescue aircraft and other emergency services are monitoring the evolving situation with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority providing a communications link with the vessel via an overhead aircraft.

There were grave fears the ship could drift into the cliffs of Royal National Park (pictured)

There were grave fears the ship could drift into the cliffs of Royal National Park (pictured)

Two tugboats have arrived to push the stranded Portland Bay cargo ship further out to sea as rescue efforts were put on hold due to the severe weather

Two tugboats have arrived to push the stranded Portland Bay cargo ship further out to sea as rescue efforts were put on hold due to the severe weather

‘There is another tugboat which is about two-and-a-half to three hours away which will have the capacity to pull it further away from the coast,’ Australian Defence Force Brigadier Robert Lording said.

‘There are 21 crew members on board and there was thought of airlifting some of those crew members of the vessel.

‘I have spoken to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority which has indicated they believe it is unsafe to do that at this present time and they have delayed that rescue mission.’ 

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters on Monday it’s a very ‘precarious’ situation and that ‘our thoughts are with those on board’.

‘The NSW government is continuing to work with Commonwealth agencies to ensure that situation is rectified as quickly as possible in ensuring that all 21 crew on board are lifted to safety as quickly as possible.’

Authorities have assured the Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier (pictured) - which is about 170m long and 27m - is double-anchored

Authorities have assured the Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier (pictured) – which is about 170m long and 27m – is double-anchored

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