During the last 12 months HMA Ships Shepparton and Benalla have been involved with hydrographic surveys in and around Torres Strait. Their focus has been to achieve high order surveys for Australian Maritime Safety Authority's (AMSA) Under Keel Clearance Management System (UKCM). A challenge given the relatively confined nature of the strait, the high density traffic confined to the routes and channels, strong tidal streams and often unforgiving weather impacting the quality of the data.
Conducting surveys in this part of Australia also often uncovers stories from the past. Approximately 5 NM east of the tip of Cape York is the site of the wreck RMS Quetta. The three dimensional imagery from the multi-beam echo sounder demonstrates the capability of the SML survey sensors in producing high resolution imagery of seafloor features. In this case deck fittings, hatches, masts and both a hole and split in the Quetta’s hull are all clearly visible.
The RMS Quetta was a British India Steamer Company vessel that sank within three minutes of hitting an uncharted rock in Torres Strait on the evening of 28 February 1890; 133 of the 291 onboard were lost. A subsequent marine Board of Inquiry found that neither the captain nor the pilot of the Quetta, both of whom survived - had been at fault. Blame for the disaster was found to lie with inaccurate navigational charts, and such was the public outcry that the Queensland Government rushed the gunboat HMAS Paluma (I) north to complete the survey of Torres Strait. New charts published by the end of the 1890 resulted in a safer shipping route between Queensland, India and Britain.
With the 'Blue Economy' continually under pressure to meet tighter deadlines and capitalise on tonnage limits the pursuit for improved navigational safety in this environmentally sensitive area continues today by the RAN's Australian Hydrographic Service.
Source: Leut Luke Pugsley www.navy.gov.au