October 8, 2018 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Monday Accidents & Lessons Learned: Grounding of the Lauren Hansen

What happened?

April 10, 2018

The Australian-registered Lauren Hansen was being readied for sea at Hudson’s Creek, Darwin, in Northern Territory, Australia. The ship’s operator, Shorebarge, had chartered the landing craft for a voyage to Elcho Island.

By 2:54 pm, the crew completed fueling the barge and departed the ramp at Hudson’s Creek. The ship’s cargo consisted of forklift machinery, construction material, a 20-foot container, and other general cargo.

As the ship proceeded out of Darwin Harbor, the shipmaster encountered difficulties using the autopilot. When engaged, the autopilot repeatedly malfunctioned, applying the port rudder regardless of the heading order set on the control panel. The master steered the ship manually until they had departed the port limits at about 5:05 pm, at which time the master attempted to engage the autopilot again with limited success.

Soon after leaving port limits, the Lauren Hansen encountered engine difficulties; the problem was traced to the starboard main engine’s gearbox cooling system. At approximately 7:00 pm, the crew dropped anchor southwest of the Vernon Islands while the gearbox cooling system issue was fixed. Both engines were operational again by 9:15 pm, and the Lauren Hansen resumed passage for Elcho Island. At 10:00 pm, the shipmaster turned over the navigational watch to the chief mate and retired to his cabin. The ship was on autopilot, with the chief mate the sole watchkeeper on the bridge with calm seas and clear weather.

The next morning, between 2:13 and 2:18, the ship made another unexpected turn to port, turning closer to land, without any alarms or indications. The main engine power was reduced but the manual or emergency steering mode was not engaged. The ship grounded on a shoal about 185 yards off Cape Keith, Melville Island. It is likely that the turn to port was due to an intermittent fault with the autopilot or compass top sensor unit.

Crews mustered and the master lowered the ship’s door in an unsuccessful attempt to re-float the vessel. The crew sounded the ship’s tanks and bilges to try to detect any hull breaches or water ingress. After the initial inspection, no damage, hull breaches, or environmental pollution were evident. The master assessed that the ship was not in any imminent danger, and did not activate the ship’s EPIRB[4] (emergency position-indicating radio beacon station) or broadcast a distress, safety, or urgency message on the radio.

As the tide ebbed, the ship remained aground, with the propellers and rudders relatively unaffected in deeper water at the ship’s stern. The crew continued to sound the ship’s tanks and bilges on a two-hour basis throughout the grounding.

About 7:00 am, the master informed the company’s designated person ashore (DPSA) of the incident using the ship’s Inmarsat-C satellite telephone (sat-phone). The DPA initiated notifications to the ship’s owners, insurers, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), class, and other stakeholders. At 7:45 am, the DPA contacted the ship on the sat-phone to get more details and formulate a plan. The master advised the DPA that the ship was expected to re-float at about 1:30 pm that afternoon on the rising tide, at which point the ship would proceed back to Darwin for an underwater inspection.

Here’s a timeline of further key events in this case:

April 11, 2018

12:00 pm – Communication to and from the ship fail

2:00 pm – The Lauren Hansen re-floats, commences passage back toward Darwin

2:25 pm – Ship’s operator authorizes helicopter to find ship due to downed communication

4:45 pm – Ship located by Robinson R22 helicopter with a portable sat-phone on board; communication reestablished

11:00 pm – The Lauren Hansen safely anchors in Darwin Harbor

April 12, 2018

1:30 pm – Divers conduct underwater inspection of ship’s hull. Underwater inspection identifies several areas of impact damage across ship’s bow: the largest is 56 in. long, 19 in. wide, and about 3 in. deep. All damaged areas sustained hull distortion and indentations; however, no cracks, fractures, or tears evident in hull.

April 13, 2018

Surveyors from AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) attend Lauren Hansen and detain the ship pending the class surveyor’s report. Damaged areas of the ship’s hull were checked by internally inspecting affected tanks and spaces. Class surveyor issues a survey report, recommending damaged areas be repaired during the ship’s next dry-docking survey, June 25 2018. AMSA subsequently lift detention order on provision that class survey report recommendations adhered to by prescribed date.

Operator’s investigation

Lauren Hansen’s autopilot had been repaired at least twice in the six months prior to the incident, once in November 2017 and again in February 2018. In both instances, the faults were found to involve corrosion in the unit’s circuit boards and switches.

On April 13 2018, Shorebarge engaged a technician to investigate the autopilot malfunction that occurred prior to the grounding. During the technician’s inspection, when the autopilot unit was powered up, the display showed a heading of about 307º whereas the magnetic compass indicated a heading of about 225º, which more accurately represented the true orientation of the ship’s head. Over the next hour, as the technician checked the magnetic compass and the CTS unit, the heading on the autopilot unit display slowly settled until it accurately reflected the magnetic compass heading. The technician was unable to re-create unit or the CTS unit. Both units were replaced on April 18, 2018 after the occurrence of the incident.


  • This incident demonstrates that any known problem with a ship’s control system, such as the autopilot, needs to be carefully assessed before sending the ship to sea. It also demonstrates the need to consider measures—such as changes to the passage plan—to reduce the risk involved in sailing with a potentially unreliable control system.
  • This investigation also provides an opportunity to highlight the necessity for magnetic compasses to be maintained, monitored, and adjusted as required by the regulations. The need to monitor the performance of a magnetic compass is especially important when it is used as the primary source of heading information for the ship’s steering systems. While, in this case, the magnetic compass appears to have been performing satisfactorily, a record of regular compass deviation checks allows the performance of a compass to be monitored and, therefore, adjusted when necessary. Further guidance on the maintenance and adjustment of magnetic compasses can be found in Marine Notice 19/2016 – Maintenance and Adjustment of Magnetic Compasses published by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

See the full report from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority here.

Circumstances can crop up anywhere at any time if proper and safe sequence and procedures are not planned and followed. We encourage you to learn and use the TapRooT® System to find and fix problems. Attend one of our courses. We offer a basic 2-Day Course and an advanced 5-Day Course. You may also contact us about having a course at your site or call us: 865.539.2139.

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Accident, Human Performance, Investigations, Operational Excellence, Safety
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