The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has called for salvage tenders to remove of containers that fell overboard off the Liberian-flagged YM Efficiency in heavy seas in June 2018 off the coast of Newcastle. The shipowner has refused, arguing they are safer left resting.
The AMSA also detained YM Eternity, a second Yang Ming ship, in July after a port state control inspection found some cargo was not properly loaded and secured.
AMSA CEO Mick Kinley said he was once again stepping in. Yang Ming and their insurers had consistently failed to act, other than the initial response when three container loads of debris washed ashore, he said.
“We are disappointed by the lack of action to clean up this mess,” Kinley said in a media statement. “Yang Ming have both a moral and legal responsibility to recover their pollution from our coastal environment.
“Leaving the containers in the sea poses an unacceptable environmental risk for the local community and future generations,” he added.
The AMSA engaged a remotely operated underwater vehicle to search the subsea when the shipowner refused in July 2018. The remotely operated vehicle (ROV) detected 66 containers on the seabed off the Newcastle coast. The insurers have removed five boxes, 15 are yet to be found, leaving 46 in dispute.
The insurer representing Yang Ming did not respond to Safety at Sea when asked for comment. However, an earlier statement said they regarded the containers as wreckage, not pollution, and that it was too risky to remove them from the ocean depths.
“Essentially it is their lack of action that has sparked our decision to push forward with the salvage,” an AMSA spokesperson told Safety at Sea. “And yes, we still intend to cover costs from the owners and insurer, including through the courts if necessary.”
Sunken containers are covered under the Nairobi Wreck Convention. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) convention provides a legal basis for states to remove wreckage. It makes shipowners financially liable for the costs.
Australia is not a party to the convention, an IMO spokesperson told Safety at Sea, although Liberia is.
The World Shipping Council estimated that 1,582 boxes containers were lost at sea each year between 2008 and 2016.