Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Container Ship Seized by the Authorities and Held Against Unpaid Multi-Million Dollar Fine

Accident to Sister Ship Causes Court to Permit Arrest of Box Vessel
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – The sister ship of the YM Efficiency, which lost 81 shipping containers off the coast of Newcastle and Port Stephens in June 2018, has been arrested in Sydney to be held against a pollution debt that could reach as high as A$20 million.

On Sunday morning, the Federal Court Admiralty Marshall arrested the YM Eternity at Port Botany after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) petitioned the court to recover the outstanding debt. Both the YM Eternity and YM Efficiency are owned by a subsidiary of Taiwanese shipping company, Yang Ming Marine Transport.

Yang Ming has refused to pay for the clean-up of the remaining pollution including the containers and their contents which have been located on the seafloor off the coast of Newcastle. 60 containers have been identified, five containers have been recovered while a further 16 are still missing.

In December 2019, AMSA signed a contract with Ardent Oceania, to begin the clean-up operation for those 60 containers. The contract is valued at about A$15 million. Work is due to begin in March 2020 and is expected to be completed within a month. The anticipated cost to locate and clean-up the remaining missing 16 containers is up to a further $5 million, bringing Yang Ming's potential debt to A$20 million.

AMSA Chief Executive Officer Mick Kinley said the arrest of YM Eternity shows that AMSA will not allow international shipping companies to pollute Australian waters without consequence, commenting:

"If you pollute our waters and refuse to pay the price of cleaning up that pollution, we will hold you accountable. Our ocean won't pay the price of Yang Ming's pollution - Yang Ming will."

The YM Eternity was also detained by AMSA on 12 July 2019 in Sydney allegedly for the same systemic failure to safely stow and secure cargo that led to the YM Efficiency container spill.

The securing of containers is of course a contentious issue worldwide as we have noted recently. Lashing the boxes securely is a job which requires intensive training and insurance groups have pointed out the complications and legal responsibilities, often a grey area, on many occasions. Despite such accidents being all too common the ‘ownership’ of a container at any point is often in dispute.

Is the box being controlled by the cargo owner, his representative (presumably the shipping line and therefore ultimately the captain) or the dockside employees charged with loading,unloading and securing the units?

The Australian Federal Court it seems is in no doubt that, in this case at least, the responsibility rests firmly with the carrier. In such cases should it be found however that it was faulty gear or inappropriate lashing which caused the original accident, could blame be shifted as easily as it seems the containers aboard the YM Efficiency unfortunately were two years ago?

Photo: The sad state of the Liberian registered YM Efficiency which lost 81 containers with 62 more damaged after she encountered heavy seas en route from Taiwan to Port Botany.