$3.25 million settlement for cargo washed overboard
Several shipping companies have agreed to pay $3.25 million to the United States to resolve allegations that 15 containers lost overboard along the California Coast in 2004 resulted in long-term damage to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
The settlement by All Oceans Transportation, Italia Marritima SpA and Yang Ming Transport Corp. is the largest ever for damages to a national marine sanctuary.
The Justice and Commerce departments announced the settlement on Wednesday which resulted from an accident that occurred in February 2004 when the containers were lost from the vessel 'Med Taipei,' traveling on rough seas from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The 40-foot containers contained a variety of cargo — furniture, tires, several hundred thousand plastic items, miles of cyclone fencing, hospital beds, wheel chairs, recycled cardboard and clothing items.
A U.S. Coast Guard report revealed the containers were inappropriately loaded on board the vessel – there were faulty welds on anchor points for the containers, as well as missing d-rings from the deck of the vessel.
The proceeds from the settlement 'will be used to restore habitats within the national marine sanctuary, an area of high biological productivity and diversity,' said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. 'These alternative restoration projects will help mitigate some of the anticipated resource injuries.'
In June 2004, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) discovered one container carrying car tires during a research project. The container was found by a remotely operated vehicle in 4,000 feet of water, about 17 miles northwest of Pinos Point in outer Monterey Bay, Calif. MBARI took photographs of the container and the serial number was easily identified and traced back to the ship.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary elected to use the settlement monies to undertake restoration projects in identified areas rather than to remove the remaining containers, whose locations are not known.
The proposed consent decree outlining the settlement was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decree will be available on the Justice Department Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html .