April 5, 2024
Pictured: the West Gate Bridge as seen from a nearby park. Photo credit Kham Tran via Wikipedia CC 3.0

Port of Melbourne Harbour Master offers reassurances on the West Gate Bridge

By Shipping Australia

Following the recent catastrophic allision* in Baltimore that destroyed the Francis Scott Key Bridge, thoughts will naturally turn to the risk of ship-bridge strikes elsewhere in the world.

In Australia, in Tasmania specifically, there was a ship-bridge strike when the dry bulker Lake Illawarra hit the Tasman Bridge in Hobart, collapsing the bridge and tragically causing the death of 12 people.

Attention in Melbourne has focused on the risk posed to the West Gate Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge over the Yarra River just north of its mouth into Port Phillip Bay. It is a major piece of infrastructure, vital to the connectivity of the city, that carries five lanes of traffic in each direction.

Harbour Master Warwick Laing has posted a safety-focused item on Linkedin to reassure the Australian public.

Firstly, he points out, that the local regulator, Ports Victoria, is “constantly analysing, reviewing and assessing all risks associated with the movement of commercial shipping through port waters”.

He also points out that, although there is a pillar of the bridge that sits on the western bank of the Yarra, it is protected by a rockwall bund that is designed to protect against vessel impact.

An additional safety measure is that, in May 2023, towage requirements in the Port of Melbourne were strengthened so that all SOLAS commercial vessels** transiting the river and under the bridge do so with harbour tugs. “In the event of power loss, machinery failure or steering failure, tugs are available to provide immediate assistance,” Mr Laing wrote.

He also noted that all commercial vessels greater than 35 metres in length are required to embark a local marine pilot – an expert in ship handling in local waters – who work closely with the vessel’s bridge team and with local Vessel Traffic Services so that ships move safely through confined waterways.

“In the wake of an incident like the loss of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, thoughts immediately go to those impacted. The lives lost, families affected and unthinkable impacts across the Baltimore community. In particular, I think of the seafarers on the Dali, Maryland Pilots and my colleagues in the Maryland Port Authority who are grappling with the magnitude of what has happened in their port… The lessons of the Baltimore Dali incident will flow through the maritime industry in due course. As with all major incidents, the hope is that the industry will learn, respond, mature and become safer as a result,” Mr Laing wrote.

Read more about the Lake Illawarra disaster

* Allision: when when a moving object, such as a ship, strikes a stationary object, such as a bridge, or a moored ship

** All cargo ships over 500 gross tonnes to which the Safety of Life At Sea Convention applies

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