Teekay’s tug, Bulgu, hit a humpback-whale calf while towing a BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance-operated bulk carrier out to sea at the Australian coal port of Hay Point on the Great Barrier Reef, on the evening of 8 September.
Crew on board the tug were about 2.5-3.0 km offshore when they became aware something was wrong, when the 33 m, 453-gt tug suffered engine failure, according to a spokesperson for North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP).
“The tug returned to its holding vessel at the Hay Point Services Terminal where the deceased animal was discovered still in contact with the vessel,” he told IHS Maritime. “The carcass was lifted by crane and removed by truck by 10 September.”
Divers worked to free the body from the tug propeller and used an onboard crane to lift the 5 m calf onto a Mackay council truck.
It is still unknown whether the whale was killed by the tug collision or before-hand. The incident was reported to both state and federal regulators, which will decide if there will be any investigations.
In a statement released to the media, NQBP described the incident as unfortunate.
“As the port authority for the Port of Hay Point, NQBP is committed to a responsible environmental approach that seeks to, where possible, prevent, and always to reduce and manage any port impacts on the environment.”
Environment groups, however, have seized on the incident to criticise proposed port expansions at nearby Abbot Point, on the Queensland coast.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has called for a full investigation, saying it highlighted the challenge of operating mega-industrial ports alongside the Great Barrier Reef.
The WWF cited a recent study that found whales hit by ships travelling at an average speed face a 50-70% chance of dying.
In a statement, BHP Billiton said it was sad to discover the calf’s death and was investigating the circumstances.
Meanwhile, divers have inspected the propeller, pods, and seals of the Teekay tug, noting no damage, NQBP told IHS Maritime. Following engine tests, the tug has returned to full service.