Australia – fines increased for marine polluters

UK Club correspondents in Australia, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, have advised of an increase in fines for those polluting Australian waters.

On July 1st 2020, a majority of States (and the Northern Territory) increased their penalty unit value in accordance with their annual CPI indexation adjustments. The Commonwealth has also completed its three year increase of the applicable penalty unit in accordance with the Consumer Price Index.

The State and Territory legislation and penalties apply to oil spills that are within, or migrate to within, 3nm of the coast. Beyond 3nm the Commonwealth legislation will apply.

The discharge of oil in Commonwealth, State or Territory waters is a strict liability offence for Owners and Masters and potentially crew members and those involved in the operation and maintenance of the ship. The Commonwealth legislation expressly includes Charterers in the list of those strictly liable.

These penalty unit increases mean that the maximum fine for an oil spill in Commonwealth waters has increased to AUS$4.44m for a Master and AUS$22.2m for a corporate Owner or Charterer.

Both AMSA and the relevant State regulators and port authorities continue to police this area strictly. UK Club recommended members take these risks into account when involved in trade to Australia. Should a spill occur owners should take immediate steps to mitigate the physical damage and manage the resulting liabilities and penalties with care.

The risks are not limited to oil or bunker spills.