It’s 13 years (can you believe it?) since the coal ship Pasha Bulker ran aground on Nobbys Beach making headlines around the globe. The 76,000-tonne bulk carrier was stranded off Newcastle’s Nobbys Beach as Australia was lashed by five east coast lows – the most significant of which is now referred to as the “Pasha Bulker” storm.
We look back on that fateful day on June 8, 2007 when Novocastrians - and people around the world - watched in awe as the enormous carrier loomed over Newcastle.
Of the five lows which pummelled Australia on June 8 and 9, 2007 the “Pasha Bulker” storm was the most significant. The ship beached on the morning of Friday 8 June just before the height of the storm that afternoon before the June long weekend. The storm caused major flooding, strong winds and high seas killing nine people and damaging thousands of homes. Around 10,000 Newcastle properties experienced flooding and 5000 cars were written off after more than 300mm of rain fell in 24 hours.
By the end of August that year, the Insurance Council of Australia advised that insurance claims would exceed $1 billion, ranking second only behind the 1999 Sydney hail storm.
Within four hours of the ship running aground 22 Filipino and Korean crew members were winched to safety in a perilous operation coordinated by the region's Westpac Rescue Helicopter service. Rescue crewman Glen Ramplin ferried 18 terrified and screaming men up a winch cable in 100km per hour driving wind and rain, suffering electric shocks and sea sickness in the 90-minute rescue operation. Two helicopters were dispatched to retrieve the crew however one was called away after the first four were flown to shore to rescue two people in a submerged vehicle.
Images of the MV Pasha Bulker stranded on Newcastle's Nobbys Beach became synonymous with the tumultuous storm and images of the ship were streamed around the world. TV reporters broadcast from the beach with the mind-boggling sight of the stranded vessel looming behind them, while helicopters took to the skies capturing extraordinary vision.
If you’ve ever clicked on a listicle such as “25 images you won’t believe aren’t photoshopped”, it’s likely local photographer Murray McKean’s iconic image (below) of the Pasha Bulker crops up. While hundreds of dramatic images were taken of the grounded ship, one of McKean’s photos in particular went viral. After the grounding, McKean climbed the Christ Church Cathedral tower and captured arguably the most famous photo of the enormous red carrier looming over buildings and people. Initially viewers do a double take and the image is often incorrectly reported to be photoshopped. It regularly appears in clickbait posts.
Nobbys became gridlocked as locals and sightseers from as far away as Sydney came to gawk at the stranded vessel. Motorists keen to get a glimpse of the ship caused traffic jams in Newcastle’s east end while hundreds braved the weather to see the Pasha Bulker from the beach or surrounding coastline. The city’s lord mayor at the time John Tate said the number of people that came to Newcastle after seeing the Pasha Bulker on the news was one of the upsides of the event. This photo taken by Glen McDonald is one of the many photos that captures the crowds surrounding the vessel.
It took three attempts to salvage the ship from Nobbys Beach where it remained for 25 days before being re-floated. A further four weeks and millions of dollars later, the bulk carrier finally left Newcastle Harbour to a rousing send off (it was towed to Japan for major repairs).
Thousands flocked to the foreshore and helicopters buzzed overhead as the Pasha was pulled free of her berth and towed out to sea by three tug boats.
Part of the Pasha Bulker's rudder which broke off during the salvage operation is now a beachside sculpture. The giant 19 tonne rudder snapped off on a rock reef and was later recovered from the sea bed. Appropriately titled Grounded, the bright red sculpture by renowned Sydney-based artist John Petrie represents the ship’s bow (it’s a great spot to photograph Nobbys Beach and Nobbys Lighthouse). It was the only thing left behind from the Pasha Bulker and serves as a permanent reminder of the dangers when wild weather lashes the port.