Fines of owner and master for illegal discharge fell outside terms of cover

In a case reported by Norwegian marine insurer Gard relating to the illegal disposal of garbage in the great barrier reef off the eastern coast of Australia, Gard has noted that in this case the fines eventually imposed the owner and master of the vessel fell outside the scope of cover provided by the vessel’s P&I Club.

On October 1st a 4,500 teu container ship departed Singapore for Brisbane. Her port rotation had recently been changed from Gulf-Far East to a Gulf-Far East-Oceania run and this was the first time she was calling Australia on this new run.

Apart from the Master, chief officer, deck crew and catering staff, other crew members had been to Australia on other ships with the same Manager, but no crew member had been to the eastern part of Australia. This was the first time they were passing through the inner route of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

The Master expressed his apprehension about passing through the GBR inner route to the vessel’s Technical Superintendent, as he did not feel confident for various reasons. Without enquiring further about the reasons for the Master’s lack of confidence, the Company assured him that that there would be a pilot onboard to navigate the vessel and there was nothing to worry about. He was told to comply diligently with the Company’s pre-arrival checklist for Australia as this would help prepare him and the rest of the crew on matters specific to Australia and AMSA in particular.

However, the checklist did not cover environmental matters in any great detail and instead just requested that the Master familiarize himself with the domestic requirements for the destination port by contacting the local port agent.

The deck officers and the master were aware that the Great Barrier Reef was an environmentally sensitive area and that they therefore should not discharge any garbage in that region. They were not aware of the boundaries as defined in MARPOL Annex V. The vessel’s passage plan did not contain any remarks or precautions to be observed whilst the vessel was in this region.

The vessel’s garbage management procedures required that the catering staff inform the bridge watchkeeping officer before disposing of any garbage overboard, but in practice this requirement was not followed.

What actually happened was that catering staff would dispose of the food waste everyday around 1845-1915 LT when the vessel was at sea, without informing those on the bridge, and sometimes the food would be disposed of directly without using a food comminuter.

The Chief Officer who was the Garbage Management Officer was in the habit of making an entry every day when the vessel was at sea indicating that food waste was disposed of at 1900 LT. He would note the position from history in ECDIS and roughly make an assessment whether the vessel was more than 3nm away from the nearest charted land mass. He was under the impression that the food comminuter was used for all food waste discharges to sea.

The vessel picked up the Torres Strait pilot at 15:00 LT on October 8th. The Chief Cook continued disposing of the food waste as usual for the next three days.

The Chief Officer was aware that vessel was in an environmentally sensitive region since the pilot was onboard and the position showed that the ship was inside the Reef VTS area, and hence did not make any entry in the GRB from October 8th to October 10th. However, some 10 to 20 minutes after the vessel had exited the Reef VTS area on October 11th, the Chief Officer made an entry showing that 0.07 cu m of Category B waste had been discharged into the sea in position 24 33 S, 153 33 E. He was not aware that boundaries for Reef VTS were different from that for the north eastern coast of Australia from where nearest land is to be measured for the purposes of MARPOL.

No further discharges were recorded until the vessel berthed at Brisbane during the morning of October 13th.

The vessel underwent a PSC inspection carried out by AMSA on arrival at Brisbane and was detained on account of illegal discharge of food waste in the Great Barrier Reef region.

The Master and Chief Officer initially contested the detention as they believed that the vessel was outside the Great Barrier Reef region at the time of discharge, until the AMSA inspector showed them the coordinates of the area as mentioned in MARPOL Annex V, Regulation 1.

The vessel was released from detention after 18 hours. A few months later, the owner and Master were fined separately. The fines were not covered by the vessel’s P&I club as they fell outside the Club cover.

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