Sygna, 26 May 1974

On Sunday 26 May 1974 the bulk carrier Sygna was involved in a major pollution incident.

On Sunday 26 May 1974 the 53,000 tonne Norwegian bulk carrier Sygna was anchored off the Port of Newcastle, Australia, waiting to load fifty thousand tonnes of coal destined for Europe. The ship had 2136 tonnes of bunker oil and 163 tonnes of diesel oil on board. A gale warning had been issued and of the 10 ships waiting off the port, seven had weighed anchor and moved out to sea.

Winds of up to 70 miles per hour and the largest swell conditions ever seen at the port’s entrance were recorded, with a wave height of over 17 metres.

The conditions resulted in the Sygna dragging anchor and drifting eleven kilometres sideways in half an hour before grounding 130 metres off Stockton Beach. The Sygna lost 700 tonnes of bunker oil at the time of the grounding. This oil was generally dispersed by heavy seas and no clean up or recovery action was initially required.

As soon as the storm and the sea subsided, the stern settled in deep water. The ship was initially considered too large to be salvaged and the wreck was declared a total loss and left in place. A helicopter from Williamstown RAAF base lifted the crew of thirty to safety with no injuries or loss of life.

On 4 September a salvage team led by Japanese millionaire Kitoku Yamada refloated the ship after repairing several holes in the hull and pumping out thousands of tonnes of water. The stern section was refloated first, followed by the bow, which had been resting deep in the sand. The bow remained afloat but unfortunately for the salvagers the stern again went aground about 80 metres out from the beach and gradually settled in the sand as salvage crews stripped it of all items of value. After lying in Salamander Bay, Port Stephens, for almost two years the bow section was towed away and broken up in Taiwan.

During late September and early October there were several failed attempts to salvage the stern, which was driven back ashore by bad weather and continued to leak oil, affecting approximately five miles of beach. Beach cleaning was carried out by bulldozers.

Following further salvage attempts of the stern in November, very heavy oil spillage occurred, spreading along the beach up to 10 miles north of the site. Response was limited to further beach clean-up by bulldozer, with oil buried in the sand above the high water mark.


The stern still remains on Stockton Beach, and the beach is now a popular surfing, fishing and tourist destination.

Related information

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

Last updated: 9 November 2020