In May 1974 the New South Wales coast was being battered by large storms which brought heavy swells off both Sydney and Newcastle ports. Newcastle port reported a swell of over 17 m (56 ft) at the entrance.

The Sygna was on its maiden voyage, waiting for a load of 50,000 tonnes of coal destined for Europe at the time of the accident. It was anchored 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) off Newcastle when the Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe storm warning and directive for ships to move out to sea. Seven of the ten ships anchored off Newcastle did so, however the Sygna was not one of them.

Early the following morning, with winds gusting at 165 km/h (89.1 kn), the captain issued orders to set sail. Unfortunately, even with its engines at full-ahead the Sygna was unable to make any headway and the storm turned it parallel to the beach. It is reported that within 30 minutes it had run aground on Stockton Beach.

With heavy seas pounding the stricken ship, its captain radioed a Mayday and gave the order to abandon ship. An Iroquois helicopter from RAAF Williamtown’s Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron flown by Flt Lt Gary McFarlane, attended the scene and slowly rescued the 31 trapped sailors from the ship in near cyclone conditions. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the incident. Gary McFarlane was awarded the Air Force Cross (AFC), with other members of his crew receiving commendations for their heroic efforts during the rescue.

The Sygna lost approximately 700 tonnes of oil during the accident. This oil was mostly dispersed by the heavy seas, and as such no cleanup or recovery action was undertaken.

Visit the Museum and read how efforts were made during the rescue, and see a detailed timeline of the incidents that caused her to run aground.

Photo: alvinology.com