Audio John Lewis tells of salvaging the Bridgewater, 2006

TLF ID R8836

This is an edited audio recording of former tugboat captain John Lewis describing the operation to salvage the stern of an oil tanker, the Bridgewater, which broke in two on 30 January 1962 in the Indian Ocean off Fremantle in Western Australia. Lewis says that when his tug eventually got the stern close to Fremantle there was a long delay before he was allowed to bring it into the harbour because of concerns it could leak some of the large amount of oil it contained. The recording was made in April 2006 and lasts for 1 min 46 sec.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This recording captures some of the drama linked to fears of a major oil spill after the Liberian-registered Bridgewater broke in two during a cyclone. After the 32 crew members were rescued, concern focused on the 15,000 tonnes of oil in the stern of the tanker, which was left drifting about 10 nautical miles (18.5 km) from the bow after the cyclone.
  • The recording describes how the concerns of WA authorities increased when the stern was towed close to Fremantle harbour. Lewis says that after a difficult operation to tow the stern from the open ocean, he was initially denied entry to the harbour and told he could take the stern only to a buoy near Rottnest Island while authorities assessed the risk of oil leaking into the harbour.
  • Lewis makes it clear that he believes WA authorities overreacted to the risk of oil leaking into Fremantle harbour. When the Bridgewater broke in two, one of the oil storage tanks ruptured, causing oil to leak into the sea. Lewis says that he told authorities there been no leaks since the day towing began. He scoffs at the fact that authorities then sent aircraft to look for a leak and that they questioned the accuracy of the pilots' reports that no oil could be seen.
  • Lewis says that the cost of keeping the Bridgewater's stern off Rottnest Island escalated after the Painters and Dockers' Union insisted its members be stationed on the stern. Lewis implies that it was the rising costs that forced authorities to allow him to take the stern closer to Fremantle and then finally into the harbour, three weeks after the cyclone.
  • All of the oil still in the stern was salvaged at Fremantle harbour. Lewis says that a large salvage tugboat came from Singapore to collect the stern and tow it back to Singapore. There, the tanker's engines and the structure of the stern were also salvaged.
  • Major oil spills can have devastating effects on marine and bird life and can pollute the coastline. At the time of writing in 2008 no catastrophic spill had occurred in Australian waters. In 1991 a Greek tanker, the Kirki, broke in two off the coast of Western Australia and lost more than 17,000 tonnes of oil, but severe weather and strong offshore currents ensured there was no serious pollution along the coast.

Other details

  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 20 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Remarks: Copyright Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Content provider
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 2006
  • Name: John Lewis
  • Remarks: speaker
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Learning resource type
  • Sound
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements.