Wind poses grounding risk for cruise ships in Yarra Bay

Nature poses two major threats to a Yarra Bay mega cruise ship terminal. The obvious natural threat is sea state, as the site is fully exposed to the open ocean and in a direct line to south-easterly swells:

Botany Bay heads from Molineaux Point breakwall; a cruise ship berthed in Yarra Bay would share this view, which illustrates how exposed the bay is to sea state.

In another post, we look at the threat posed by swells. In this post, we will examine the less obvious threat posed by strong winds.

Mega cruise ships are very tall – the height of a 17 floor building – and slab sided:

Mega Cruise Ship Oasis of the Seas on left (port) side of a finger wharf

And they are very long (at 348 metres, Ovation of the Seas is as long as the eastern side of Hyde Park south – Liverpool Street to Park Street):

Ovation of the Seas is as long as the eastern side of Hyde Park south

A floating object of this shape with these vast dimensions is highly vulnerable to the force of strong wind.

Mighty Ships documentary – Captain of mega cruise ship Quantum of the Seas, whose departure has been delayed, says to camera: “Wind is our biggest enemy.”

Yarra Bay is not protected by hills or ridges in any direction and strong to gale force winds impact the bay in all seasons of the year and from five directions:

  • south – any time of year
  • south east – any time of year
  • south west – in winter and spring
  • north west – in spring and summer
  • north east – in summer
South-westerly on Yarra Bay, 4 June 2019, from Molineaux Point break wall. Image courtesy Cheryl Rennie

There is a real risk that a mega cruise ship, berthed at an exposed wharf in Yarra Bay, could be hit by winds so strong that it would break its moorings. If not able to manoeuvre quickly enough under its own power, the gigantic ship could be pushed by the wind and run aground in the bay – in front of Yarra Bay beach or on the Port Botany breakwater, somewhere between Molineaux Point and Bumborah Point.

To gain an appreciation of the real possibility of such an incident, it is worth recalling the events of the night of 14 October 2014 at Brotherson Dock in Port Botany. A gale force southerly arrived suddenly about 9:00 pm. The winds reached 126 kilometers per hour – category 2 cyclonic strength – just before 9:30 pm and broke the moorings of the Kiel Express, a large container ship berthed at the DP World terminal on the south eastern side of Brotherson Dock.

The Kiel Express swung out of control across Brotherson Dock and its stern collidedwith Safmarine Makutu amidships, another large container ship which was berthed at the Patricks terminal on the opposite side of Brotherson Dock.

Stern of Kiel Express collides with Safmarine Makutu amidships. Image courtesy & © Sydney Morning Herald.

While swinging out of control away from the wharf, the bow of the Kiel Express cut the bow mooring lines of a third large container ship, the OOCL Hong Kong, which was also berthed at the DP World terminal. As the bow of the OOCL Hong Kong swung out into the dock, its stern was pushed into the quay and was damaged by bollards on the wharf.

The bow of the OOCL Hong Kong swings out into Brotherson Dock after its bow mooring lines were cut by the out of control Kiel Express (foreground). Image courtesy & © Sydney Morning Herald.

The OOCL Hong Kong was brought under control by tugs and had to be held by them throughout the night, while the Kiel Express was only brought under control by allowing it to lie alongside the Safmarine Makutu for the rest of the night.

Kiel Express is secured alongside Safmarine Makutu while all available tugs attempt to control the OOCL Hong Kong. Image courtesy & © Sydney Morning Herald.
As dawn breaks, the Kiel Express remains alongside the Safmarine Makutu. Image courtesy & © Sydney Morning Herald.

The Safmarine Makutu and the OOCL Hong Kong suffered damage affecting their seaworthiness, including damage to the hulls and navigational lights. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) required these ships to undergo repairs before leaving port.

On the night of 14 October 2014, it was possible to bring under control two very large ships with broken mooring lines because:

  • there was some degree of shelter within Brotherson Dock
  • six powerful tugs could be mobilised rapidly and being berthed in Brotherson Dock, were immediately able to attend to the stricken ships
  • within the dock, and due to the direction of the wind, there was nowhere for the ships to run aground

In Yarra Bay, on such a dangerous night:

  • there would be no shelter
  • the ships would be twice as large
  • tugs would not be at hand – they would be half an hour away
  • there would be no dock with water of uniform depth and the ships would be blown on to the beach or the Molineaux Point breakwall

We leave the consequences to your imagination. As a guide to one possible outcome, you may recall the grounding of the Pasha Bulker at Nobbys Beach Newcastle in 2007, when caught at the port’s weather-exposed anchorage by the onset of gale force winds:

Pasha Bulker aground on Nobbys Beach, 1 July 2007. Image courtesy of & © NSW Maritime.

Note: The very dangerous nine hour incident in Port Botany on 14-15 October 2014 was reported in:

Comments on this article (from our Facebook page)

Josie Gilbert: 5 boats per year wash up on the beach if not more. Thus moorings being closed for application now. Very bloody windy here.

Sloop blown off its mooring; aground on Frenchmans Beach, 2018. Image courtesy Josie Gilbert

Cheryl Rennie: A most professional and correct report by Peter! It is what the sailors from Yarra Bay Sailing Club have been saying all along!

Michelle McKenna: Someone I know who has worked in and on the bay extensively and knows it inside out laughs when I talk about the terminal, pretty much for this reason. I hope he is right.

Anthony James: Locals know how wild Botany can be. Again and again. Rough is common in the bay.

Fishing boat blown off its moorings by a south-westerly; aground on Frenchmans Beach, August 2017

Mark Baker: The container ships are not moored in Yarra Bay, regardless, they have broken their moorings on multiple occasions, while actually being sheltered BEHIND the Yarra Bay breakwall, and caused significant damage to themselves and other vessels.

Tugs attempt to control OOCL Norfolk after it broke its mooring lines in high westerly winds at Patricks terminal, Brotherson Dock in October 2013. The bow almost touches the opposite quay, while the stern almost strikes a Maersk line vessel. Image courtesy

I have lived in La Perouse for the last 10 years, every time we have a significant weather event, boats moored in Frenchman’s Bay break their moorings and get thrown up on the beach or sunk, the logic I am using is based on observation and experience.

Catamaran blown off its moorings by a south-westerly; aground on Frenchmans Beach, 4 June 2019. Image courtesy Mark Baker

Mark Baker: This is what you get when we get an East Coast Low in Frenchman’s Bay, boats breaking moorings and ending up on the beach, now imagine this was a giant cruise ship with thousands of people on board, it’d be smashed onto the beach or break wall without fail, hello disaster!

Sloop and catamaran blown off their moorings by a south-westerly; aground on Frenchmans Beach, 5 June 2019. Image courtesy Cheryl Rennie

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