Washed up ... the stuck trawler. Photo: Peter Rae
The salvage operation of a stranded fishing trawler stuck on rocks at Cronulla has been likened to an episode of MacGyver, with a union representative claiming the incident controller stripped down to his swimming trunks and swam out to the boat with rope, duct tape and a knife between his teeth.
But Sydney Ports has dismissed the claim, along with allegations by Paul McAleer of the Maritime Union of Australia that the salvage operation was "woefully inadequate", after the 25-metre Challenge could not be dislodged from rocks at high tide Wednesday morning.
Like trying to pull a parked car down the road using a kid's scooter.
Mr McAleer said the salvage team had used a "pathetic, small tug" when emergency vessels with greater capacity were available.
On the rocks ... the Challenge has been stuck since Tuesday. Photo: Peter Rae
"You've got a 100-tonne ship and they are using a tug-boat that has a six-tonne bollard pull. That's like trying to pull a parked car down the road using a kid's scooter; it's just a joke," Mr McAleer said.
"Sydney Ports thinks this is an episode of MacGyver but they are stuffing it up spectacularly," Mr McAleer said, referring to the US action-adventure TV series where a secret agent solves complex problems with minimal resources.
"When you have the incident controller stripping down to his budgie smugglers and swimming out to the boat with a coil of rope, some duct tape and a knife between his teeth, you need to question the incompetency of this operation."
But Sydney Ports said the member of the emergency response team who swam out to the vessel had been in full gear and had done so only after a safety clearance by NSW Police.
The union, along with other salvage operators and fishermen, was also critical of the decision not to remove the 6000 litres of diesel and 400 litres of lube oil on board, which posed a risk to the beach if there was a spill.
"There’s no reason why fuel should have been pumped out of it straight away,’’ said Coffs Harbour-based fisherman and salvage expert, Darren Ward.
"It’s a disgrace that the boat is still sitting there. It should have been moved yesterday."
Mr Ward said if the vessel wasn’t moved before predicted larger swells, it could break up on the rocks and cause "a real mess".
The Sydney Ports spokesman defended the decision not to remove the fuel from the stricken vessel.
"The hull is intact and there is no threat to rupture. The safest place for the oil is in perfectly solid tanks."
An attempt to float the 100-tonne ship off rocks near Cronulla Point at high tide on Wednesday morning was unsuccessful and salvage crews will have to wait until Thursday morning to attempt the operation again.
The crew began manoeuvring the longline fishing vessel at 4am on Wednesday but, with the tide ebbing at 6am, it was still wedged firmly on the rocks.
The tide on Wednesday morning was not as high as initially expected.
Four Indonesian crew members, including the 43-year-old master of the vessel, were rescued from the Queensland-registered vessel early on Tuesday morning.
They had set out from Sydney about 9pm on Monday before they struck trouble about 12.45am on Tuesday. No one was injured.
Roads and Maritime Services has launched an investigation.
- with Megan Levy