A despairing site of oil washing up onto Marcoola Beach after the Pacific Adventurer came to grief during Cyclone Hamish.
A despairing site of oil washing up onto Marcoola Beach after the Pacific Adventurer came to grief during Cyclone Hamish. Nicholas Falconer

Company fined $1.2m for oil spill

THE owners of the container ship Pacific Adventurer which lost more than 270 tonnes of oil off Moreton Bay in March 2009 have been fined $1.2 million and ordered to make a public apology after pleading guilty to criminal pollution charges in a Queensland court this week.

Marine Infrastructure Minister Craig Wallace said the penalty was justice for the environmental damage inflicted on the Sunshine Coast and Moreton Island coastlines two years ago.

"I welcome today's outcome which marks the culmination of a matter which the State Government was determined to pursue," Mr Wallace said.

"This sends a clear message to all ships using our sea lanes that we will not tolerate any threat to our pristine marine environment.

"The owners were fined $600,000 each with convictions recorded.

"The fine comes on top of payouts already made by Swire under a civil agreement totalling $25 million.

"This included a limitation fund established according to international law of about $17.5 million paid into the Federal Court, and a further donation for the benefit of the Queensland marine environment of about $7.5 million.

"All private sector civil claims arising from the spill totaling about $1.7 million have already been settled.

The 185-metre Pacific Adventurer lost 31 shipping containers in heavy seas off Cape Moreton on March 11, 2009.

"The fallen containers punctured the ship's fuel tanks and resulted in the estimated loss of 270 tonnes of heavy fuel oil which impacted more than 56 kilometres of coastline on both Moreton Island and the Sunshine Coast."

Registered owners of the Pacific Adventurer, Swire Navigation Company Ltd and Bluewind Shipping Ltd, entered guilty pleas on 12 October to discharging oil into Queensland's coastal waters under the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995.

An investigation into the oil spill was led by Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) with assistance from both the State and Commonwealth agencies.

Maritime Safety Queensland General Manager Patrick Quirk said charges against the other defendants including the ship's captain were discontinued.

"The Crown Prosecutor had to evaluate whether there was a reasonable prospect of conviction in relation to each of the defendants, their degree of culpability and the likely length and expense of a trial," Mr Quirk said.

"The prosecutor also considered that the degree of culpability of the master of the ship, Bernardino Santos, compared with that of the owners, didn't justify continuing the prosecution against him.

"The master had only recently been assigned to the ship and problems relating to the securing of equipment started a considerable time before he joined the vessel.

"The Crown's case indicated the key cause of the oil spill was the failure of container securing equipment during the severe weather, which had not been properly maintained by the owners of the Pacific Adventurer.

"The remaining two corporate defendants were not the legal owners - Swire Shipping Ltd was the charterer of the vessel and China Navigation Co Ltd was the manager of the vessel.

"The prosecutor formed the view that the prospects of securing a conviction were not sufficient to continue the prosecution against them."

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