Wordsmiths would insist that a lifted anchor is
"aweigh", not "away", but we are concerned here
with anchors that have got away, rather than those that are
We often receive reports, particularly in the wake of any
significant coastal weather event, of ships that have suffered
broken anchor chains and lost anchors, usually at port anchorages
off Gladstone, Hay Point and Brisbane. The loss of an anchor can
create obvious operational and class difficulties for a vessel and
can also cause delay if no spare anchor is available. Expense is
also incurred by owners when they are requested by relevant
authorities to locate and recover the lost anchor.
In Queensland, Harbour Masters have wide powers to direct owners
to remove any obstruction to navigation. Harbour Masters are often
concerned that the anchor may be protruding from the seabed –
potentially causing damage to other vessels in a designated
anchorage – or that the lost anchor (and chain) may foul the
anchor of another vessel.
A Harbour Master can typically issue a formal direction or order
under relevant legislation triggering a strict legal obligation on
the ship owner to remove a lost anchor or other obstruction. The
Harbour Master will however usually first make an informal request
to owners, often received by e-mail or through the local agents, to
recover the anchor. Whether such an informal request constitutes a
legally binding direction is a moot point. Nevertheless, in our
experience, it is generally best to comply with the Harbour
Master's informal request as it usually permits greater
flexibility. Otherwise, if such a request is not met, a formal
direction will almost certainly be issued and such directions
usually have strict terms and time limits for compliance.
Typically the most difficult aspect of an anchor recovery
operation is locating the anchor. In situations where a vessel
deliberately slips its anchor, the anchor chain is ideally buoyed
before it is slipped, which significantly aids the recovery
operation and reduces the associated costs. In the best case
scenario, this may even allow the anchor to be quickly recovered
directly back to the vessel with minimal impact on the vessel's
In the worst case scenario, the vessel may not immediately
realise the anchor chain has broken or there may be insufficient
time to buoy the anchor or chain, and in such situations there is
usually little direct indication of the anchor's location.
Merely recording the vessel's nominal GPS position is often
insufficient given the difference between the position of the GPS
transponder and where the anchor may be positioned. Further
information such as the vessel's heading, the distance between
the GPS transponder and the bow, the amount of chain lost, the
vessel heading and the angle at which the chain was leading away
from the vessel at the time of the loss can assist greatly.
Commercial arrangements with salvors for the recovery of an
anchor vary in substance and form, depending particularly upon
whether the location of the anchor is marked or is unknown. The
recovery contract will typically be offered on a "no cure, no
pay" basis, although this is not always possible in
circumstances where the location of the anchor is completely
unknown as contractors may be unwilling to risk expending
unremunerated effort on searching in vain. Any lump sum contracts
are also usually inflated to account for the risk of having to
spend an unknown amount of time searching for the anchor.
Another key consideration is the fate of the anchor once
recovered. The vessel has often long since left the port, and
owners usually have no plans for the vessel (or any other vessels
in the same fleet) to return to the port in the foreseeable future
to take back the anchor. Unfortunately there is little market for
second hand anchors within Australia and the anchor therefore
usually needs to be scrapped (with little net gain once transport
and disposal costs are taken into account) such that it is usually
more cost effective to look to the salvor to take possession of the
recovered anchor and to be responsible for its disposal.
Locating, retrieving and disposing of an anchor can be a costly
exercise and appropriate preparations undertaken by the vessel
prior to slipping the anchor can assist greatly.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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