Yang Ming and AMSA face each other in court

Federal Court Australia. Credit: ABC

The YM Eternity container vessel was released from arrest this week, but shipowner Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp. and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) are now locked in a court battle.

The YM Eternity is the sister ship of YM Efficiency, centre of a bitter dispute with AMSA over the cost of removing containers it lost overboard off the Newcastle coast in June 2018.

On 9 February 2020, AMSA obtained a warrant for the arrest of the vessel from the Federal Court of Australia, seeking to cover the cost of removing the remaining containers.

The court’s admiralty marshal boarded the vessel when it arrived in Port Botany, Sydney.

Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) reported the court prevented operations commencing on YM Eternity at DP World terminal in Port Botany. However, later that afternoon, a second federal court order was filed ordering the vessel’s release.

Normal cargo operations resumed the following day.

AMSA had warned the shipowner last May that it would take on the company in a legal battle, and has followed through with the warning.

“The continued refusal of Yang Ming and its insurers to discuss payment for the pollution clean-up has left us with no other option but to seek to recover our costs through the federal court,” an AMSA spokesperson told SAS.

Yang Ming issued a statement to customers on 11 February, apologising for any inconvenience during the arrest, while maintaining its position the containers should remain on the ocean floor.

“Yang Ming regrets any inconvenience to Australians and apologises for the conduct of AMSA in arresting the YM Eternity in a way that caused unnecessary and maximum inconvenience to Sydney customers on a Sunday and without any notice,” it said in the statement circulated via FTA.

The shipowner has committed to continue sonar scanning of the seafloor together with the government and AMSA. However, it maintains that containers detected in deep waters are best left undisturbed and monitored for release of plastics. Its position is based on a paper it commissioned from Queensland University.

YM and insurers have an agreement with the New South Wales government to conduct and pay for the monitoring and clean up of beaches and shoreline already. That will continue, James Neill of Aus Ship Lawyers and correspondents told SAS.

As the matter is now before the courts, AMSA said it was unable to comment further.