Clock ticking for Yang Ming box cleanup bill

YM Efficiency loss of containers. Credit: Rob Farr

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has contracted  Ardent Oceania Pty Ltd salvage to remove 60 containers and debris from the seabed off Newcastle, threatening legal action if the shipowner does not foot the bill.

In August 2019 the Yang Ming owned container ship YM Efficiency lost 83 containers of the coast of Newcastle in heavy seas.  In the clean up operation that followed five containers were recovered.  Sixty have since been identified on the seabed, with a further 16 undetected.

Yang Ming have refused to recover all remaining containers arguing they are wreckage, not pollution and safer left in place.

“Over the past 18 months we have battled with Yang Ming and its insurer to take responsibility for the mess they have left behind,”  AMSA CEO Mick Kinley wrote for a recent opinion piece published in the Newcastle Morning Herald.

“When a similar incident occurred in European waters, the insurers immediately engaged salvors to recover the containers from the seabed,” he added. “When I asked the representative of Britannia why that was not the case off Newcastle I was told that Europe ‘was not in the middle of nowhere’”.

Kinley said AMSA had reached an impasse with the company and that is why they signed off on the AUD15 million (USD10.3 million) contract. AMSA has invoiced Yang Ming for AUD3 million in December to cover initial costs.

“If payment isn’t received by January 18, 2020, we will start legal action to ensure the polluter pays,” Kinley said.

Factors that may complicate the dispute is professional fishermen associations calling for the containers to stay in place.  As well Australia’s is not a signatory to the IMO  Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks. and a number of the sunken containers lie outside it jurisdiction. However an AMSA spokesperson told SAS this would not affect AMSA’s rights to recover costs it incurs in combatting pollution in the marine environment.

Yang Ming lawyers told SAS they were unable to provide a statement, without clearance from their client, which was unavailable this week. Meanwhile AMSA reports Ardent Oceania (formerly Svitzer Salvage)  will begin operations in March, with work expected to be finished the following month.