APL England shipmaster appears in court over loss of 50 cargo containers off eastern shore of Australia

Monday, June 1, 2020

This Monday shipmaster of APL England, a Singaporian cargo ship that was sailing from from Ningbo, China to Melbourne, appeared at Wynnum Magistrates Court following a spilt cargo incident from the ship 70 km south-east of Sydney on May 24. Mohamad Zulkhaili Bin Alias appeared by video link. The matter was a court mention.

According to the statement by Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the offences filed Friday last week against the captain, Mohamad Zulkhaili Bin Alias aged 43, relate to pollution and/or damage of the Australian marine environment as a result of poor cargo loading. Specifically the two charges that have been laid, as reported by ASMA, were

  1. “Section 26F of the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 – Discharging of garbage into the sea contrary to the Act
  2. Section 141 of the Navigation Act 2012 – Master did not ensure that the vessel was operated in a manner that did not cause
    • pollution to the marine environment in the coastal sea of Australia or the exclusive economic zone of Australia and
    • damage to the marine environment in the coastal sea of Australia or the exclusive economic zone of Australia”

The orders also included the ship insurer company to pay $22 million as per the Protection of the Seas Act, before the ship can be released from detention at the Port of Brisbane.

On Sunday, a 12-meter container devoid of its shipment of “medical supplies, household appliances and building materials” washed up on rocks near South Maroubra Beach, in New South Wales, Australia. The container was one of about 50 containers of cargo — including face masks — spilled overboard from last week’s shipping accident to the south-east of Sydney, on May 24. Australian Transport Safety Bureau has classified it as a “serious incident”.

The incident occurred reportedly because of rough weather at the waters, which caused the vessel’s main engine to trip; resulting in loss of propulsion for a short time and the ship rolling heavily, up to 25°. Another 75 containers were damaged but stayed onboard, according to a report from ABC. Some commenters remarked this incident could have been avoided if the ship was loaded with the cargo more appropriately, such as with a lesser amount.

The AMSA surveyors conducted a seaworthiness inspection on May 26, with the ship docked at the Port of Brisbane anchorage (off Port Cartwright), to check the structural and operational condition of the ship following the collapse of container stacks on the deck. AMSA General Manager of Operations Allan Schwartz said the seaworthiness inspection would help inform if, and how, the ship might be brought safely into the Port of Brisbane.

On May 27, the ship was found to be fit to be brought safely into the Port of Brisbane by Maritime Safety Queensland and the Brisbane Harbour Master. The vessel was escorted into Moreton bay by two harbour tugs, one container salvage response vessel, two Queensland water police vessels and a Maritime Safety Queensland pollution response vessel. It arrived safely in port at midday, and was detained by AMSA on Wednesday night after its investigators discovered the cargo stowage deficiencies including inadequate lashing arrangements for cargo and heavily corroded securing points for containers on deck.

AMSA said in a statement that the ship will not be released until the issues are corrected. “These inspection findings are a clear breach of requirements under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). This is a now matter for the ship’s owner, American President Lines (APL), and the operator to rectify.” AMSA and Australian Transport Safety Bureau are conducting investigation into the incident; the final report is anticipated by the end of 2021 . AMSA continues to provide drift modeling and work with NSW Maritime, the lead agency responding to the incident’s shoreline impacts.

On May 26, reports were received of face masks washing up in NSW between Magenta Beach and The Entrance. By May 27, the floating containers and their contents started polluting the beaches in Sydney, Australia. The AMSA released a statement in which it said the containers likely contained “medical supplies, household appliances and building materials”.

The Malabar Beach, Coogee Beach, Maroubra Beach, Bronte Beach and Bondi Beach were affected. Malabar beach was reportedly affected the most. The beaches were closed on Wednesday, May 27, and Council staff –rangers– as well as residents, including volunteers from Australian Seabird Rescue (ASR), cleaned-up what washed up on shore.

The ASR branch coordinator commented on the environmental impact of the debris, by saying “It’s not going to biodegrade, it’s going to stay there for such a long time. These animals out in the ocean are going to choose to eat a lot of it as food. They don’t realise that what the ocean is providing isn’t good for them.”

The beaches were re-opened for swimming by 1st of June. After the beaches re-opened, visitors were advised to not pick up any debris (pictured). Some of the spilled cargo has also reached as far as the Central Coast, according to a report from ABC.

Authorities also expressed concerns about the cost and environmental impact of the incident, as Alex Barrell from NSW Maritime said “[It is] too early at the moment to estimate the cost of this clean-up. This really does have some serious environmental impacts and that’s why we’re taking the clean-up so seriously”.

The matter was adjourned until June 12, to be mentioned at Brisbane Magistrates Court on the day.