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Korean Star, 20 May 1988

On 20 May 1988 bulk carrier Korean Star grounded in the vicinity of Cape Cuvier within the port limits of Carnarvon, Western Australia.

The vessel went aground as a result of cyclonic weather conditions, which caused it to drag its anchor. The Korean Star was declared a constructive total loss after it broke in two following the grounding. About 600 tonnes of fuel oil were lost from the vessel.

The National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil was activated to respond to the spill. National Plan dispersant and spraying equipment and a skimmer were transported by road to Carnarvon. However, due to the inaccessibility of the area and the rapid natural dispersion of the oil by wave action, major clean-up action was not required.

The Korean Star sailed from Hong Kong to Cape Cuvier on 11 May 1988 in ballast with 19 crew. The vessel arrived at anchorage one mile north of the salt loading facility at Cape Cuvier on Friday 20 May at 5.15 pm Western Standard Time (WST). The weather was cloudy but fine, the wind north/north-east force 3 and a slight sea.

The vessel anchored to the port anchor. Once at anchor, deballasting commenced with the fore peak tank at 1800 hours followed by no. 2 port and starboard in preparation for loading the next day. This operation was completed at 9.50 pm. During the night the weather deteriorated. At 10 pm the wind was north-east force 4. By midnight the wind had backed to north/north-east force 6, the sky overcast and the sea was very rough.

Due to the worsening weather the ship's master ordered the engines on standby and paid out a further three shackles on the port anchor cable. At this stage there was no sign of the vessel dragging her anchor, however, due to his concern, the master maintained watches on the bridge and in the engine room.

At 2 am Saturday 21 May the vessel's position had not altered although the wind speed had steadily increased to north/north-east force 8. Engines remained on standby and no. 2 ballast tanks were refilled. At 4 am the wind was estimated at north/north east force 9. The weather was overcast and raining with very high seas. Shortly after 4 am the wind backed to north/north-west and increased in intensity to force 10 (estimated over 60 knots). Following this change in direction and increase in intensity it was observed that the vessel was dragging. Arrangements were made to heave up the anchor and attempt to make for the open sea.

The anchor was clear at 4.23 am and the engines were put ahead in an attempt to steam out of the bay. By this time the vessel had dragged close to the mooring buoys off the salt loading facility.

The wind was on the port side and the vessel heading in a north-easterly direction toward the shore. Very rough seas and a high swell estimated six to eight metres was running in the bay.

The master called for assistance from two tugs which were standing by in the area. He requested that they push on his port quarter in an attempt to bring the vessel's head to wind. This was not successful and the master ordered full ahead engines, hard to port rudder in an attempt to bring the bow up into the wind. However, the vessel was unable to obtain steerage way and was blown toward the shore.

At 4.50 am port anchor was dropped. At 5 am the Korean Star grounded at the base of cliffs approximately one mile from Cape Cuvier. Assistance from the tugs was prevented by the prevailing weather and proximity to the rocky coastline.

At 8 am the ship's log book records severe damage and oil pollution in the vicinity of the ship. It was later found that there were three metres of water in no. 3 and no. 4 holds and major damage to the ship's side at no. 2. There was no apparent damage to no. 4 and 5 hatches.

The vessel was grounded from the bow aft to no. 4 hatch and was severely pounded by the strong swell. Subsequently the aft section split adrift at no. 4 hold and was wedged against the rocks separate from the bow. Although grounded, both sections continued to surge and yaw with the westerly swell.

The incident was monitored by local police and State Emergency Services (SES) personnel who provided facilities for the successful evacuation of the crew. This operation was directed by Carnarvon pilot Captain Tony Keane who managed to clamber on to the ship from the rock ledge using a pilot ladder. He then organised a flying fox supplied by the SES party. All crew members together with limited baggage were successfully landed.

The vessel carried 614 tonnes of fuel oil at the time of grounding. This was mainly in no. 1 and no.2 fuel oil tanks situated at no. 2 and no. 3 hatch respectively. The engine room settling tanks contained about eight tonnes of fuel oil. Also, about 60 tonnes of diesel oil was carried in tanks in the vicinity of the engine room.

Following the wreck, most of the oil escaped into the sea and was dispersed by wave action. Pollution of the rock foreshore extended some 10 miles north of the wreck and fouled the only sandy beach. Arrangements were put in hand to provide equipment to combat this pollution, however, due to the inaccessible location and the natural dispersion by wave action, no significant pollution clean-up was attempted.

Arrangements were made by the owner and insurance representatives for a salvage assessor to inspect the wreck.

Vessel particulars

Name: Korean Star
Port of Registry: Panama
Owner: Green Spanker Shipping, S A PANAMA
Tonnage: 10508 net, 18639 gross, 30900 dwt
Dimensions: 174 m L, 26 m B, 10.6 m D
Type: Geared bulk carrier, 5 holds, 5 cranes (25T)
Propulsion: Single screw, diesel
Draught: 3.8 m F 6.8 m A
Ballast: 9900 tonnes

Image of bulk carrier Korean Star grounded in the vicinity of Cape Cuvier


The vessel was declared a destructive total loss as it was unable to be salvaged. The wreck was left where it grounded.

It did not cause any navigation hazard and the vessel's owners were ordered by the Department of Marine and Harbours to ensure the wreck was safe.

Related information

Read about Australia's National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies.

Last updated: 4 January 2021