Australia to begin three-month safety inspections on container ships

The YM Efficiency container ship. Credit: AAP/David Moir/via REUTERS

Australian port state control (PSC) will conduct a three-month inspection blitz on all container vessels beginning 1 August 2020.

The announcement comes after a spate of containers going overboard in Australian waters; at the same time, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has recorded an increase in the number of stowage issues on container vessels coming into the country.

All container ships that visit Australian ports will be subject to inspection, an AMSA spokesperson told SAS. General cargo vessels that carry any containers on board will also be included in the inspections, AMSA added.

According to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics (BITRE), there were more than 1,000 container vessel visits to Australian ports, every quarter in 2019.

In a statement issued last week, AMSA said the inspection campaign would target cargo securing arrangements.

“Incidents like the loss of 81 containers off Newcastle by YM Efficiency in 2018, 50 containers off Wollongong by APL England in May, and 3 containers from Navios Unite off Cape Leeuwin in June have caused significant environmental damage to Australia’s iconic marine and coastal environment,” the statement said.

“We have seen the serious consequence of improper cargo securing arrangements,” said AMSA acting general manager of operations Michael Drake. “Tonnes [of] plastics and other debris [have been] washing up on our beautiful beaches and floating in our oceans.”

“Rusted cargo securing points, improper lashings, and exceeding stack weight limits have all contributed to these incidents,” he said. “Ship operators should be on notice that non-compliance will not be tolerated in Australia.”

Vessels visiting Australia must ensure they fully comply with international standards relating to cargo securing, as laid out in Chapter VI of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention.

AMSA recommended that shipowners and masters also familiarise themselves with the approved cargo securing manual for their vessel and Marine Order 42.

Any ship failing to meet the safety regulations would be detained until it complies.

Detentions of container vessels in Australia due to poor cargo arrangement rose from one in 2018 to four in 2019, according to AMSA PSC data for 2019.

Meanwhile, APL England and Navios Unite owners are working with AMSA to search and recover containers that were lost overboard in recent months.

However, the recovery of YM Efficiency containers on the seabed was left to AMSA, which successfully concluded the clean-up operation in May 2020.

Who will pay for the cost of the recovery operation is now subject to court proceedings, with a case management hearing set for 6 November this year.