Have You Ever Had a “Pasha Bulker”?

And how to keep pressing on after failure

In the early morning of June 8, 2007, the Newport port authorities in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia radioed 56 ships that were waiting off the coast to load or unload coal. They warned the ships to move further out to sea to escape an approaching severe storm. Forty-five of those ships moved out to sea and successfully rode out the storm.

The Pasha Bulker, along with ten other ships, did not heed the warning.

As the storm raged, the Pasha Bulker was pushed inland and was unable to clear the coast. It ran aground at 9:51 am. It had fully operational engines, anchors still stowed, and had not requested any tug assistance to help them avoid the shoreline.

As the storm continued, it pushed the ship almost parallel with the shoreline, both bow and stern stuck in the sand and trapped between the beach and a rocky reef ((9) Pasha Bulker Ship Runs Aground In Storm (2007) – YouTube).

While the ship was not loaded with coal, it contained heavy loads of fuel oil, diesel, and lube oil. The ecological damage would be immense if the ship began breaking up as the massive waves beat against it.

Not only was there risk to the environment, there were also twenty-two human lives in grave danger.

With the storm in full force and extremely dangerous conditions, the crew were rescued from the ship by helicopter one by one, putting the rescuers themselves in danger.

As you may come to see, the Pasha Bulker is the story of not only a seemingly unrecoverable disaster, but also a powerful, real-world example of a community banding together with resilience, collaboration, and innovation.

Failure can be recoverable.

Have you ever had a personal failure that was so profound, you wondered whether you would ever have anything to contribute to the world again? I know I have. And the more I speak with people, one on one, in deeper friendships or in coaching relationships, it becomes apparent that most of us have had a Pasha Bulker at least once in our lives.

The biggest casualty of a major life failure is not just the object of our failure. Rather, the lingering cost is the way we question our capabilities, our future, our purpose, maybe even God.  We question what is wrong with us. We believe that maybe we’re the only one who is this colossally [fill in the blank: unlucky, stupid, victimized, unwise]. How can we trust ourselves again? How can anyone else trust us again?

Do we risk missing our God-ordained purpose in life because at some point along the way, or perhaps multiple points, we made phenomenally bad choices that seemed unrecoverable? Or maybe we were the victim of someone else’s phenomenally bad choices.

Perhaps it was a bad business decision, or a failed marriage. For some, it might have been a shameful struggle with an addiction that robbed you of self-agency and left you feeling weak and dependent. Perhaps it was a dream you took a big risk on, and it didn’t pan out the way you thought, even possibly through no fault of yours.

Failure of any kind has a way of leaving us impotent and hopeless.

While we tend to see our failures from our limited viewpoint, God will always use these to wake us up to ways He wants us to change and grow. God wants us to know Him and trust Him more fully.

So, how can we recover after failure?  Here are some takeaways from the Pasha Bulker incident that may inspire us.

Recovery from failure begins with rescue operations. Within four hours of running aground, 22 crewmen were rescued from the ship by winching them by helicopter. It wasn’t pleasant for them. Because of multiple and competing storm emergencies, a single helicopter and a single rescue crewman, Glen Ramplin, “ferried 18 terrified and screaming men, one by one, up a winch cable in 100 km/hour driving wind and rain, suffering electrical shocks and sea sickness” in the prolonged rescue (A look back on the Pasha Bulker…ship happens – Visit Newcastle).

Once we realize the scope of our situation, the first course of action is always to deal with the immediate damage of our failure. Triage for the wounded and damaged is the immediate priority, and at this point, we almost always need to step back and let other people step in to help us.

Recovery from failure almost always requires humility. The captain of the Pasha Bulker chose not to heed the warnings from the port authorities to head out to sea. He also had reportedly not asked for assistance from a tugboat or dropped anchor while he was still positioned further out in the sea.

Did he overestimate his own piloting skills? Or did he underestimate the power of the storm that was surrounding him? In either case, the result was disaster.

Whatever the cause, recovery in our personal lives is closer on the horizon when we can honestly assess where we went wrong. Where did I overestimate myself? Where did I think I was stronger than I really was? What accountability was missing from my life?

What can we learn from our failure? Taking the time to deeply ponder the gap between our values and our actions can help us learn from our mistakes. Hopefully these lessons ensure we never repeat the same mistakes twice.

Repairing damage is sometimes a long and arduous process that involves the help of experts, friends and our community. The massive size of the ship, coupled with the force of the storm, made it seemingly impossible to refloat the ship and rescue it from its precarious position. It was clear that the situation was dire.

The maritime community worked tirelessly to develop a comprehensive plan to refloat the ship. They worked together, combining strategic thinking, the newest technology, and a commitment to restore the ship to its rightful place on the open sea.

After weeks of intense efforts, multiple attempts and several setbacks, the Pasha Bulker was successfully refloated and moved into deeper water, and ultimately tugged back to a Japan for repairs.

Fixing the mess we’ve made may involve multiple failed attempts. Are we willing to take advice from our trusted friends, a coach, or our pastor? Are we willing to keep trying, even when we don’t get immediate results? Are we willing to learn from experts who may have important expertise or wisdom about our situation? Are we committed to full restoration for others and for ourselves?

Not everyone involved in failure fares well. The captain, Ino Cota, was found negligent and permanently lost his license. No other information was available about if or how he recovered from this disaster. I wish I could report a happy ending, but I can’t.

Sometimes you must change your name (just kidding). Ten years later, the Pasha Bulker returned to Newcastle with the new name of the MV Drake. Without incident.

God has given us many examples in His Word of ordinary men and women who failed: Eve, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, David, Peter, Paul and many more. God always desires that all our experiences, both positive and negative, draw us to Him. He is the ultimate restorer, and nothing we have ever done or will do can keep us from fulfilling the purpose He has for our lives if we are willing to let Him do His work.

Failure is often the gateway to a more humble, honest, and loving relationship with God and others.

Don’t let a Pasha Bulker keep you beached or benched.

“. . . one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for” (2 Corinthians 13:9).

MV Xanthea – Wikipedia

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Sherri Bartin Avatar

I’m Sherri, and as a Certified Life Coach

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