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APL England master charged following loss of containers

Australian authorities say pollution of marine environment could have been avoided

The master of the APL England is being blamed for inadequate securing of containers on deck. (Photo: Australian Maritime Safety Authority)

The master of the APL England has been charged in Australia following the loss of 50 containers from the ship. 

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the master appeared before the Wynnum Magistrates Court on Monday to face two charges related to the loss of the containers:

  • Violation of Section 26F of the Protection of the Sea Act of 1983 prohibiting the discharge of garbage into the sea.
  • Violation of Section 141 of the Navigation Act of 2012. Prosecutors allege the master did not ensure the vessel was operated in a manner to prevent pollution of the marine environment of coastal Australia.

The charges carry maximum penalties in excess of AU$300,000 ($206,250), according to the AMSA. The next court date is June 12 in Brisbane Magistrates Court.

“Laying charges against the ship’s master is not action we undertake lightly, but this and other incidents remind us of the important role the ship’s master has in ensuring the ships that ply our waters are operated safely and do not damage our marine environment,” the AMSA said.

Neither the AMSA nor ANL, which operates the ship for APL, would identify the master. APL is part of the CMA CGM Group.

“The master’s name and qualifications have not been released to the public and as such we cannot provide you with the requested details,” the AMSA said in response to an inquiry.

Loss of propulsion

The APL England, with a capacity of 5,510 twenty-foot equivalent units, was en route from Ningbo, China, to Melbourne, Australia, when it reportedly encountered heavy seas on May 24.

ANL, which operates the Singapore-flagged ship, said the containers fell overboard after the APL England experienced a brief loss of propulsion about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Sydney. 

Two days later the AMSA said it had received a report of face masks washing up on shore in New South Wales. 

Investigators boarded the vessel after it was escorted to the Port of Brisbane on May 27.

The AMSA said the charges against the master “should not detract from the responsibility of the shipowner, APL Singapore, insurer Steamship Mutual and operator ANL, who remain accountable for remediation of any impacts of this incident.

“We welcome ANL taking responsibility by engaging contractors to undertake shoreline cleanup and retrieve some of the floating containers,” the AMSA said, “but the impacts of this incident could take months if not years to remediate and we expect these efforts to be sustained for however long it takes.”

“Serious deficiencies”

The APL England remains detained at the Port of Brisbane and “will not be released until its serious deficiencies have been rectified,” the AMSA said.

It said inspections of the ship found inadequate lashing for cargo and heavily corroded securing points for containers on the deck. “These inspection findings are a clear breach of requirements under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Seas.”

The AMSA said from the investigation, which is ongoing, it was “clear that the risk of container loss could have been reduced.”

In a statement posted over the weekend, ANL said the APL England was “fully compliant with maritime certificates at the time of the incident.”

ANL also said it supported the ship’s master.

“Through the height of this storm, the crew of this vessel leveraged their training and navigational skills to maneuver the container ship into safety. This was an unnerving event, even for seasoned maritime professionals, and the captain and the crew have ANL’s full support,” the statement said.

The AMSA is requiring “financial security from the insurers” in the amount of AU$22 million ($15.1 million) to cover estimated costs including the cleanup.

The AMSA said the unloading of damaged containers has commenced and is expected to take several days to complete.

The AMSA initially had said 40 containers were lost overboard and nearly 75 others were damaged. The number falling off the vessel later was increased to 50. 

Of the 50 containers lost, 26 were empty, according to the AMSA, which said 24 containers that fell overboard contained “a range of products, including plastic packaging and wrapping, plastic ducting, baby seats, face masks, shoes, bakeware, shovels, rubber lane separators, car seat covers, handwash, breadcrumbs, furniture [and] pet accessories.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.