Oil-spill companies fined $1.2 million

Two shipping companies have been fined a total of $1.2 million and ordered to make a public apology for Queensland's biggest oil spill.

Swire Navigation Co Ltd and Bluewind Shipping Ltd were each fined $600,000 today after pleading guilty earlier this week in the Supreme Court in Brisbane to disposing of oil in waters off south-east Queensland in March 2009.

Convictions were recorded and they were ordered to publish an apology in Brisbane's The Courier-Mail newspaper.

The spill occurred when the ship, the MV Pacific Adventurer, lost 31 containers off Cape Moreton as it encountered heavy seas whipped up by cyclone Hamish.

Some of the containers hit the vessel, resulting in a 270,000-litre fuel oil spill along Moreton and Bribie islands, off Brisbane, and some Sunshine Coast beaches.

In sentencing, Justice Kiernan Dorney said the spill occurred because the lashings keeping the containers in place were corroded and poorly maintained.

He said the owners were aware of the problem and had made some efforts to make repairs, but they had not done enough to ensure the repairs were finished before the ship left Newcastle.

"The owners in question here were aware both of a problem that existed and the consequences of that particular problem," Justice Dorney said.

He also concluded that other factors, including the weather, contributed to the disaster.

Outside court, Swire chairman Richard Kendall apologised for the environmental damage and thanked those who had helped with the clean-up.

"In respect of the vessel's lashings, we acknowledge that we could have done better," he said.

"Immediately following the incident we further upgraded container fittings on all of our vessels as a safeguard should they ever be subject to such extreme sea conditions again."

In determining the fine, Justice Dorney considered the extent of the environmental damage, which the court heard was overstated in the media.

Expert reports said it "did not constitute an ecological disaster as portrayed in the media", despite the oil having a "delayed and persistent toxic effect" on some areas of the coast.

"There was no risk to human life or health, and there was a low mortality to wildlife," Justice Dorney said.

"This is not in the worst category of cases, but I do find that it is a very serious case."

The court heard the two companies have already paid $17.5 million under a limitation order in the Federal Court, as well as an additional $7.5 million to help cover the $31 million cost of cleaning up the damage.

Charges against the ship's master Bernardino Santos, and the other corporate defendants, Swire Shipping Pty Ltd and China Navigation Co Ltd, were dropped this week.

Marine Infrastructure Minister Craig Wallace said the penalty was justice for the environmental damage done to Sunshine Coast and Moreton Island coastlines.

"This sends a clear message to all ships using our sea lanes that we will not tolerate any threat to our pristine marine environment," he said in a statement.

He said all private-sector civil claims arising from the spill, totalling about $1.7 million, had been settled.

Source : AAP https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/oil-spill-companies-fined-1-2-million-20111014-1loqd.html#ixzz2uFxx61oA

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