Image for The Inconvenient Truth: Geelong Star and Basslink

*Pic: By-catch ... The Geelong Star’s huge nets caught a whale-shark ...

*Pic: The gouge in Basslink ... was it caused by Geelong Star ... ?

First published July 11

The super trawler Geelong Star slipped quietly from our shores over a year ago.  More recently, Matthew Groom, the minister for energy, who presided over the disastrous Basslink Saga of Dec 2015, also slipped his political mooring for life in QANGO land …

( see: ). 

The scene is now set for the legal act of the Basslink drama to play out.

The cable outage in December 2015 sent Tasmania’s electrical system into a serious state of prolonged insecurity.  Taking almost six months to locate and repair the problem, at a cost of hundreds of millions dollars, with even more tens of millions of on-costs to the economy for emergency power generation facilities.

Since then neither Basslink nor any other formal entity has been able to determine the exact cause of the cable damage - or at least publicly admits to one.

Basslink, the cable operators, have long held a stable view that a “force majeure” was the cause of the cable failure. This is a rather ambiguous phrase avoiding any decision as whether the cable was damaged from external or internal forces and the source of that force. It is a term used in some contracts and perhaps the nearest English interpretation is an Act of God.

It is a view that may have a key role in the script if a final solution to this saga is to be acted out in court.

In more recent times the Tasmanian State Government has claimed that Basslink overheated the cable by driving too much power through the cable for too long. This view is based on Hydro engineers’ theoretical modelling. 

It also appears that the Hydro is not letting Basslink have access to their theoretical calculations, a somewhat legal position rather than that of scientific critique - and the truth.

Whilst modelling is a very good design tool where the model is proved by a successful product, it is highly vulnerable to challenge in a court of law when the models outcome cannot be physically verified with certainty. I would think that Basslink, Hydro and the Tasmanian Government are well aware of this. It is in my opinion a sophisticated legal inspired ruse.

The other major suspect in this saga is the super trawler Geelong Star.

It does seem that by playing a waiting game the two major players in this saga have steadily steered a course away from the simple possibility the Geelong Star may have damaged the cable, without actually factually eliminating it?

It is the simplest alternative to the damage scenarios proposed by Hydro or Basslink, it is the one, which I suspect, would be the least financially attractive to Basslink and the Tasmanian Government.

In 2016 I wrote a series of TT articles ( BASSLINK: Dracula in charge of the blood bank?, What is your view on what caused the Basslink failure?, Basslink: The very secretive State Government, Is a door flying open on the Geelong Star, Likely cause of Basslink failure is the Geelong Star ... ? ) on why Geelong Star should be a serious suspect for the cable damage.

The articles evolved from a social event when several people with considerable collective expertise and experience in related subjects became engrossed in a debate on the “issue of major interest at that time” and was severely critical of the information, or lack of it, being fed to the public on the Basslink repair operations.

Today this group still holds the opinion that the Geelong Star has not been eliminated from enquiries by substantial evidence and the time honoured detective procedure of crime solving by establishing three main points, opportunity, motive and means has not been fulfilled.

Opportunity:  To date there has been no information on the exact course of the Geelong Star between leaving Geelong and her arrival at fishing grounds in NSW waters.

However, one of the group, a fellow retired electronics technical officer whose area of expertise was in marine communications, navigation and RADAR and with an operational career.

He calculated from the scant data, effectively the departure time of Geelong Star leaving Geelong, the time of cable failure and the time of Geelong Star’s next known position in NSW fishing grounds that he was unable to eliminate the possibility the Geelong Star being in vicinity of the cable failure point at the time of failure.

Further, he noted that all ships of that size carry a compulsory GPS logging system which records the ship’s position every 30 minutes. This was also noted also by a retired trawler expert also at the party.

Note, it does appear that because of intense greens protest activity the Geelong Star had her AIS (Automatic Identification System) legally switched off. This electronically hid her from other shipping. A rare allowance by Maritime Authorities, however the more private GPS data log has not yet, as far as I know, been released.

Motive: The Geelong Star had a prolonged stay in port for extensive net modifications ordered by the Federal Government for by-catch issues. A problem identified and much publicised from previous voyages. 

A fishing boat in port … not only is it not making money but it is costing serious money.

According to our retired trawler expert, trawl nets when modified can act unpredictably including sudden diving whereby the bottom mouth of the net with its weights can plough the ocean floor. 

A very undesirable condition for a pelagic fishing trawler which always trawls well above the seabed.

So the first part of Geelong Star’s voyage out of Geelong was most likely net testing, most likely going south toward the Tasmanian coast then swinging east toward NSW waters. This course would enable a quick return to port if further net modification were needed. However Geelong Star carried on, taking her on a course that could have crossed over the cable at the point of the failure.

It also well within reason that the net dived suddenly and ploughed the sandy seabed along with the Basslink cable.

Means: Weights used by these huge trawl nets work by both gravitational and water dynamic effect to form the net’s lower mouth, the upper mouth is held high by buoys.

The water dynamic effect is achieved simply by using a thick steel plate as a weight about the size of a standard door. Spaced along the lower mouth, each weight is attached at a corner by a suitable short tether to the net.  When under tow they slip horizontally and are hence known as “flying doors”.

Simple square cut steel plates have sharp corners and would be easily capable of ploughing a soft seabed and inflicting the type of damage shown in the photographs.

There are other official photographs of less severe cable damage a distance from the fatal holed section. This could indicate that other net “flying doors” also ploughed the sea bed and only scuffed the cable.

If you were a crime detective and had three suspects as to which killed the cable who would you choose to be your main suspect and investigate first?

Firstly ... The Hydro: “Magical mathematical model”. Sponsored by an organisation which has a very high positive pecuniary interest in its success … The Tasmanian State Government.

Secondly … Basslink:  “Mythical force monster” that is “force majeure”. Where Basslink’s position is the status quo after collecting its insurance payout.

Thirdly … A jumbo sized, blood and fish entrails, seriously major underwater cable killer, the fishing trawler. 

A trawler that was in the area at the time and will not prove its exact location at the time of the cable murder and has everything to gain by not being interrogated.

I do not think there is any contest as to who the primary suspect should be.

While Geelong Star may have sailed from our shores, I believe there has been no evidence been forthcoming that the Geelong Star can be eliminated from the possibility of having damaged the cable.

Unless there is unequivocal evidence forthcoming that Geelong Star was not involved I believe that neither Basslink’s “force majeure” or Hydro’s modelling can ever be tested in court.

To my mind, there is also the timeline implication that the script for the outcome of this whole saga was devised by vested interests before the Basslink made it’s “force majeure” announcement?

Perhaps Geelong Star rightly remains “an inconvenient truth” not yet out of the public mind!

*Bio of Kelvin Jones: Technically trained and qualified in the UK by a major electrical engineering manufacturing company in Power Engineering with Switch and Protection specialisation, moving on to defence electronics, commissioning RADAR and development of underwater weapons. TV transmission, field work and commissioning work on industrial electronics and HVAC carrier protection. Research in cellular and fibre optics communications. Field work on scientific, bio, and medical instrumentation with extensive work on Medical Imaging particularly CT scanners and Nuclear imaging. Mature age universty studies in computer science and Technology with emphasis on the viability of renewable energy technology on legacy power grids.