Shipping containers lost from YM Efficiency plucked from the ocean floor

Yang Ming salvaged container is offloaded at the Port of Newcastle. Credit: The Australian Maritime Safety Authority

A salvage operation at the heart of a legal battle between YM Efficiency shipowner Yang Ming and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is successfully under way.

In the past 10 days, the salvage company Ardent Oceania’s vessel Pride and crew have safely retrieved 14 out of 62 containers detected on the seabed, an AMSA spokesperson told SAS.

The container loads of machinery, scooters, furniture, plastics, car tyres, and a truck were offloaded at the Port of Newcastle while heavy seas prevented salvage operations. Waste processing is ongoing.

On 1 June 2018, 81 containers fell overboard from YM Efficiency. The company retrieved five containers in shallow waters during the initial cleanup, with all but 14 containers since located in deeper waters off the coast.

AMSA contracted Ardent for the job after Yang Ming argued the remaining containers could not be done safely and were best left undisturbed.

The matter about who should now pay the AUD15 million (USD9.5 million) bill for the salvage will be settled in the court.

“Yang Ming and their insurers Britannia P&I have made their position clear that they do not intend to clean up the remaining containers and do not believe that they constitute pollution,” an AMSA spokesperson told SAS.

“AMSA strongly disagrees and has commenced legal proceedings in the federal court to recover the costs of removing the containers.”

Meanwhile, an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found the containers went overboard due to failure to comply with the ship’s stowage plan.

ATSB said it was the weight and distribution of the containers in some bays exceeding the allowable force limits as set out in the ship’s Cargo Securing Manual (CSM), which caused the ship to roll and the containers to fall overboard.

The safe carriage of containers at sea depends on loading, stowing, and securing them in compliance with the ship’s CSM, ATSB stressed.

“Checking stowage plans for compliance with the CSM requirements is increasingly achieved through loading computer systems,” the report found. “Notwithstanding the efficiency of computerised loading systems, the scale and pace of modern container ship operations puts significant pressure on ship’s officers to check and amend or approve proposed stowage plans at a late stage.”

The investigation identified the stowage was not checked for compliance with the CSM, nor did the ship’s officers use the ship’s loading computer system and its lashing programme to check.

“Safe and effective container stowage planning is the primary control measure in managing the risks involved in carrying containers by sea,” said Greg Hood, chief commissioner of ATSB. He added ATSB was satisfied Yang Ming has since addressed the issue.

Meanwhile, Pride has returned to sea and crew are working on the next load.

Yang Ming has been contacted for comment.