The L'Austral in Dunedin. TAIC photo
The L'Austral in Dunedin. TAIC photo
Passenger vessel L’Austral contact with rock Snares Islands, 9 January 2017
Occurrence Date
Report Publication Date
L’Austral was a French-registered passenger vessel that was operating a 16-night cruise of New Zealand’s South Island, including its sub-Antarctic islands. On 7 January 2017 L’Austral sailed from Lyttelton with 200 passengers and 156 crew on board, bound for the Snares Islands, south of New Zealand.

L’Austral arrived off the Snares Islands early on the morning of 9 January 2017. The passengers spent the morning making shoreline excursions in rigid-hulled inflatable boats, observing the wildlife. That afternoon the weather became unsuitable for small-boat excursions, so L’Austral rendezvoused with the boats in the sheltered water to the south of the islands to take them back on board.

While the master was focused on manoeuvring the ship to facilitate the safe recovery of the rigid-hulled inflatable boats, the ship drifted into a 300-metre unauthorised zone, where it contacted an uncharted rock. The rock pierced the hull in an empty void tank, which flooded with water. The damaged compartment had little effect on the ship’s stability, and the ship was able to continue to another sub-Antarctic island before returning to New Zealand for temporary repairs. Nobody was injured.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (Commission) found that L’Austral inadvertently entered the 300-metre unauthorised zone, which the ship was not permitted to enter and in which the charts noted the existence of overfalls, eddies and breakers.

The uncharted rock was in an area that the Commission considers was not suitable for the safe navigation of ships the size of L’Austral.

The Commission also found: that the activity to recover the ship’s rigid-hulled inflatable boats was not well planned; that the ship’s position was not being adequately monitored; and that the standard of bridge resource management on board L’Austral did not meet good industry practice.

The Commission identified three safety issues:
- the voyage planning for the time in the Snares Islands and the standard of bridge resource management on the bridge leading up to the contact did not meet the International Maritime Organization standards or follow the guidelines published in other leading industry publications
- the operation of L’Austral’s electronic chart display and information system did not meet good practice as defined in the International Maritime Organization guidance or the standards set out in the operator’s safety management system
- The Department of Conservation had insufficient maritime expertise applied to assessing the risks to ships and the environment.

The Commission made two recommendations to the operator to address the safety issues regarding the standards of voyage planning, the bridge resource management, and the training and use of electronic chart display and information systems.

The Commission made one recommendation to the Director-General of the Department of Conservation that, given the potentially harsh and sensitive environment in the sub-Antarctic islands and the likelihood that shipping activity will increase in future, he appoint a suitably qualified person to manage the safety of navigation in the sub-Antarctic islands.

The key lessons arising from this inquiry were:
- an electronic chart display and information system is a valuable aid to navigation. However, mariners need to understand fully and be familiar with all aspects of the system, otherwise relying on the electronic chart display and information system as a primary means of navigation can contribute to, rather than prevent, accidents
- every part of a ship’s voyage must be planned, and all members of the bridge team must be fully familiar with and agree to the plan. This is a cornerstone of good bridge resource management
- good bridge resource management relies on a culture where challenge is welcomed and responded to, regardless of rank, personality or nationality.
Snares Island (-48.045833,166.579168) [may be approximate]