Dozens of containers lost from a ship at sea have been recovered off the coast of Australia as the country's maritime authority continues to press the vessel's owner to pay the $11 million cleanup costs.
The 63 boxes plucked from the bottom of the Tasman Sea are among more than 80 lost from Yang Ming's containership YM Efficiency about 20 miles from shore in June 2018.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) says it stepped in to handle the cleanup operations after the Taiwanese shipowner and its insurer Britannia P&I refused to take responsibility for retrieving the containers and associated debris that had scattered for miles along Australia's east coast. In December 2019 AMSA hired Ardent Oceania to perform the salvage work, which began April 3 and concluded on May 8.
With the subsea recovery work now completed, AMSA says it intends to recover all associated costs from Yang Ming and its insurers.
To retrieve the lost cargo, Ardent utilized the 130-meter offshore supply vessel MV Pride equipped with a 250-metric-ton active heave-compensating subsea crane and a 35-metric-ton auxiliary crane. The vessel lowered a custom-built steel basket to the seafloor where remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROV) helped to transfer the containers and associated debris to be loaded onto the ship.
Over a five-week period, the vessel made four trips to port to discharge the recovered containers for processing at a specially constructed facility within the Port of Newcastle and recycled when possible. AMSA says the final six containers are now being processed.
"This project was forecast to take a month, and was done in 35 days, including 7.5 days of delay for weather," said AMSA's General Manager of Response Mark Morrow. "Although originally expecting 60, we have recovered 63 containers."
AMSA says thousands of tons of waste has been recovered from waters off the Hunter coast, including items ranging from furniture, glassware and other household products to steel beams, bicycles and pickup trucks. Since the incident, various items such as clocks and diapers have been found washed up on Australian shores.
"By recovering these containers and the tons of plastic and other rubbish contained inside we have ensured that future generations are not picking up Yang Ming's mess off the regions beaches for decades to come," Morrow said.
Recouping salvage expenses
The total cost to find, collect and dispose of the 63 containers and debris is about AUD$17 million (US$11 million), and work to locate and recover the remaining missing containers could require another AUD$5 million (US$3.2 million). AMSA says the efforts will be paid for by levies collected from the shipping industry if it's not reimbursed by the shipowner.
But so far the agency says its attempts to engage with Yang Ming regarding their responsibility to remove the lost containers and their contents have been unsuccessful.
"Yang Ming and their insurers Britannia P&I have tried every trick in the book to attempt to shirk their responsibilities to clean up their mess," said AMSA's Chief Executive Officer, Mick Kinley. "They said that attempting to remove these containers was dangerous. That was wrong. They said trying to remove them would cause more damage to the environment. That was wrong. They said that these containers and their contents aren't pollution. There have been tons of garbage that show that was wrong too. Yang Ming are out of excuses and they should pay up."
Kinley said AMSA will continue legal proceedings in Federal Court in an attempt to recover all costs associated with the recovery operation from Yang Ming and their insurers.
In February, one of Yang Ming's ships YM Eternity was arrested at Port Botany after AMSA petitioned the court to recover the outstanding debt. The same vessel had also been detained by AMSA in July 2019 in Sydney for the same failure to safely stow and secure cargo that led to the YM Efficiency container spill.