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Fuel leak disaster on barge

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Freight backlog expected due to major fuel spill

A major fuel rupture on a Sea Swift vessel will cause freight chaos in Cape York and the Torres Strait over the coming weeks.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has suspended MV Trinity Bay, the main barge for Weipa, pending a full investigation into the cause of the diesel spill, which leaked into the living quarters on the vessel.

MV Trinity Bay
Image: Cape York Weekly

“AMSA is investigating a serious incident involving the cargo supply ship, Trinity Bay,” a spokesperson for the marine watchdog said on Friday.

“Shortly before 7am Thursday it was reported to AMSA that Trinity Bay suffered an internal fuel oil (diesel) spill.

“AMSA understands that about 1000 litres of fuel was spilled into crew accommodation quarters, with a smaller amount – about 20 litres – being lost overboard in Cairns.

“Thankfully there were no reported injuries to crew who were on board at the time.

“AMSA has serious concerns about the ship’s operations, and the potential risk it poses to the safety of mariners and Queensland’s precious marine environments.

“AMSA has prohibited the ship from being operated while its investigation into the incident is underway and rectification action is undertaken by the operator.”

The major incident was the worst possible start for new Sea Swift chief executive officer Rochelle Macdonald, who began last Monday, slightly earlier than first advertised.

“I can confirm that an incident occurred on Sea Swift vessel MV Trinity Bay while it was docked at Cairns Port,” she said in a statement.

“At 6.30am, Sea Swift staff were transferring fuel from the cargo to the bunker tank on the vessel when a volume of fuel leaked into crew rooms and the galley.

“The vessel is in no danger, there were no injuries, and the fuel leak has not caused major damage to the vessel.”

Dr Macdonald said Sea Swift had put plans in place to ensure food and essential freight would still arrive as normal and on time on Thursday Island and Horn Island (Sunday), and in the NPA and Weipa (Monday), although Cape York Weekly has been told the Weipa barge will not arrive on Monday.

“The incident has however led to a five-day delay for general, non-time critical cargo from Cairns to Weipa due to the necessary clean-up operation on the MV Trinity Bay,” she said.

“These items will now arrive in Weipa on Saturday, May 8, with all services departing Cairns back to normal by next Friday (May 7).

“We are also in the process of securing additional capacity to move the current backlog of vehicles and recreational vessels.

“We anticipate this service will occur within the next two weeks.”

Cape York Weekly understands Sea Swift was forced to ring a number of barge operators trying to obtain a vessel to help with the freight backlog.

MV Trinity Bay is expected to be out of action for at least a fortnight, according to sources.

“I would like to apologise to everyone affected by this delay to our general cargo service,” Dr Macdonald said.

“We have notified customers of these changes to our schedule via email, and our website is being updated accordingly.

“Sea Swift has immediately launched a full investigation, and we are working closely with the AMSA to find the cause of this incident.”

Freight times had already been compromised by Sea Swift’s inability to work on public holidays.

Vessels that would normally depart on Mondays were delayed until Tuesday because Sea Swift won’t pay the public holiday rates.

It means that groceries destined for Weipa arrive on Friday night instead of Thursday, forcing local supermarket workers to scramble to get the produce on shelves.

As there is no Sunday trading, the stock can only be sold on Saturday and the following Tuesday, a result of back-to-back Monday public holidays.

Cape York Weekly 3 May 2021

This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 3 May 2021.

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