YM Efficiency lawyers speak out against media attacks

Containers falling off the YM Efficiency. Credit: ABC news

Yang Ming lawyers have lashed out at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) over its ongoing media comment on the overboard boxes dispute off the Newcastle coast.

In a letter to AMSA CEO Mick Kinley this week, Aus Ship, acting for the owners of the vessel YM Efficiency, accused AMSA of half-truths, alongside false and misleading remarks.

The lawyers, while falling short of threatening libel action, also accused AMSA of acting contrary to its code of conduct.

The correspondence follows an opinion piece by Kinley, which was published in The Newcastle Herald on 1 January 2020.

“At the outset, the article conveniently ignores the prompt action that Yang Ming and its P&I insurers took following the incident,” Drew James, consultant at Aus Ship, wrote. “The relevant state government agency concerned with the AUD3 million (USD2 million) clean-up after the incident described Yang Ming and their insurer’s response as an example of ‘best practice’.”

The YM Efficiency lost 83 containers in heavy weather off the coast in June 2018; 5 were recovered, 60 have been detected on the seabed, and 18 remain lost.

AMSA has contracted a third party to remove the containers after Yang Ming and its insurers refused. It has demanded Yang Ming pay the bill and has threatened to take the company to court if it fails to do so.

Citing a report the company commissioned from the University of Queensland, Yang Ming lawyers argue the expert evidence is to leave the boxes in place.

The report, YM Efficiency: Assessment of plastic materials in shipping containers by Dr Cassandra Rauert and Professor Kevin Thomas, concluded that removing the containers could disrupt the current ecosystem and risk the containers breaking open and releasing all contents during removal.

It argued that the plastic released from the containers, estimated at 53 kg per year, is insignificant compared with the estimated 130 million kg of plastic released into the ocean Australia-wide annually.

The report recommended monitoring the containers regularly and reviewing the situation in five years.

YM lawyers also cited correspondence from the Commercial Fisherman’s Co-Operative Ltd expressing the view that the containers should not be removed.

They note there had been no hook-ups of a container since 5 November 2018. This, they argued, was the result of the positions of the containers being chartered and passed onto the fishers.

“The cost of that charting exercise was borne by our clients,” Aus Ship lawyers wrote.

Lawyers also refuted Kinley’s remark in The Newcastle Herald that the shipowners and their insurers had said the clean-up was unnecessary because (Newcastle) was in the middle of nowhere compared with a similar incident in Europe.

“The containers from MSC Zoe were on the shoreline or in shallow waters of a major navigational fairway close to shore and close to several major ports all having significant salvage capacity such that recovery of the containers and debris was relatively simple and safe,” James countered. “Whereas in contradistinction, the containers from YM Efficiency were in very deep water and so far offshore that most were outside Australian territorial waters.”

AMSA has been contacted for comment.