Ship arrested in Australia over AUD20 million pollution bill

Yang Ming box ship. Credit: Dietmar Hasenpusch

The Australian Federal Court Admiralty Marshal on Sunday arrested the YM Eternity container vessel in Port Botany, Sydney over an estimated AUD20 million (USD13 million) pollution debt.

YM Eternity is the sister ship of the YM Efficiency. The vessel is the centre of a year-long standoff between the Taiwanese ship owners and Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) over 81 containers lost overboard in heavy weather off the Newcastle coast in June 2018.

While Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp. and its insurers promptly paid for the initial clean up, the company has since refused to pay for  60 containers located on the seafloor. A further 16 containers are still missing.

Lawyers representing Yang Ming argued that the remaining containers were in deep waters and should be left in place. AMSA contracted a salvage operator to remove the containers and is demanding the company foot the bill. Work is to commence in March.

“If you pollute our waters and refuse to pay the price of cleaning up that pollution, we will hold you accountable,” AMSA CEO Mick Kinley said. “Our ocean won’t pay the price of Yang Ming’s pollution – Yang Ming will.”

AMSA previously detained the YM Eternity in July 2019 for “the same systemic failure to safely stow and secure cargo that led to the YM Efficiency container spill.”

The court action is unprecedented. AMSA has never sought to recover debts through the Marshal before.

“It is not something that we have done lightly,” an AMSA spokesperson told SAS. “Yang Ming and their insurers’ continued refusal to discuss payment for the pollution clean-up has left us with no other option.”

AMSA reports Yang Ming have corresponded with the Authority since the arrest and discussions are ongoing.

Meanwhile, both the vessel and its cargo are in the custody of the court. SAS has contacted Yang Ming representatives Aus Ship Lawyers for comment.