Efforts have failed to tow a stricken Pacific Basin bulker into deeper water off Australia.

The 28,000-dwt Portland Bay (built 2004) lost power in a storm off Monday and had been drifting back to shore.

The handysize eventually dropped anchor less than 2km from a Sydney beach, but the weather remains bad.

An attempt to move the ship overnight was halted after tow lines snapped in heavy seas.

The Port Authority of New South Wales said the complex operation could continue for days.

It reported “slow and steady progress” amid dangerous conditions.

Three tugs were in attendance.

Port Authority chief executive Philip Holliday told reporters: “I’m pleased that in the currently stable environment all crew have had the opportunity to refresh and get some rest after working in these extremely difficult and hazardous conditions throughout yesterday and overnight.”

“The crew is taking every opportunity while in this situation to undertake repairs to their engines,” he added.

A plan had been drawn up on Monday to airlift the 21 seafarers from the ship, but weather conditions were too severe.

Waiting for better weather

Pacific Basin said in a statement later on Tuesday that the ship lost power during “severe” weather .

The company added the ship is holding its position off Botany Bay, with both anchors down.

All 21 crew on board remain safe, with no pollution or reported damage to the vessel.

“Pacific Basin would like to extend its deepest thanks to The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Salvors and New South Wales authorities, who responded immediately to requests for help and continue to provide invaluable assistance and support,” the owner and manager said.

“We would also like to thank all crew members of the Portland Bay for their hard work and tireless dedication in ensuring the ongoing safety and stability of the vessel in extremely difficult and hazardous conditions,” Pacific Basin added.

The primary focus is the safety of the crew, the vessel and the NSW coastline.

“The intention is to tow the ship to Port Botany once a suitable weather window opens,” the owner said.

The aim on Tuesday was to keep the ship stable and await better weather.

The Guardian reported the vessel had become disabled as it transported cement from Port Kembla.

A turbo fan in the ship’s main engine was reported to have blown up, leaving the ship adrift in waves of up to eight metres.

The deputy secretary of the Sydney branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, Paul Garrett, praised the crew.

“It’s akin to going to sea in a washing machine,” he said. “I spoke with the guys: they described the seas as mountainous and said they were getting thrown around a bit.”

“They haven’t had much sleep, and it’s uncomfortable work, but that’s part of the job. You get the call, you go out to sea,” he added.

The ship has insurance cover from the North of England Club.