The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has signed a contract to remove the pollution caused by the Yang Ming owned container ship YM Efficiency when it lost 81 containers off the coast of Newcastle last year.
AMSA released an open tender to industry calling for proposals to remove the containers on 9 August 2019. Submissions closed on 23 September with seven submissions received.
After reviewing the proposals AMSA has signed a contract with Ardent Oceania Pty Ltd to remove 60 containers and associated debris from the waters off the Newcastle and Port Stephens coast. Of the 81 containers lost five have already been recovered – a further 16 remain undetected by the underwater surveys.
The successful proposal includes the design and construction of a custom-fabricated metal basket which will be used for lifting the containers. This basket will be deployed to the sea bed by a large ship. The containers will be placed in the basket then lifted to the surface. The basket will fully encapsulate the container so that no container or content debris can escape, mitigating any potential spill as the container is brought to the surface. The contract includes the removal of any surface debris larger than 100mm and all debris from the sea bed with any dimension larger than 1.5 meters. (NOTE: These size limits are for contract purposes only and there is scope to remove smaller debris based on the assessment of AMSA during the operation).
The recovery work will rely on remotely operated underwater vehicles and heave-compensated cranes operated from the surface, minimising any safety risk to personnel during the recovery operation.
The contract includes contingencies for dealing with any unexpected release of material and should any floating debris escape, additional first response capability will be deployed on site, including marine watch and a boat deployed from the removal ship, to both provide safety for the ship’s crew and the ability to pick up floating material.
AMSA’s contractor will undertake both marine and land-based operations. Pollution recovered from the ocean will be transported to a specially constructed waste reception facility in the Port of Newcastle. The waste will be classified, stored, transported and disposed of according to New South Wales Environment Protection Authority Waste Guidelines.
The entire operation is scheduled to take about a month, subject to weather, beginning in March when conditions are most favourable.
Since the initial clean up AMSA has attempted to engage with the Taiwanese owners of the YM Efficiency, Yang Ming, about their ongoing responsibility to remove the remaining containers from the seafloor. Yang Ming and their insurers Britannia P&I have taken a position that they do not believe that the containers constitute pollution.
Leaving the containers in-situ poses an unacceptable environmental risk for the local community and future generations. It also presents a safety risk to local fishers.
The single largest ecological impact from this event is from the increased load of hydrocarbon-based, persistent, plastic from cargo and its packaging that is either already or available to be released in the future into the marine environment from breakdown of the container contents.
AMSA CEO Mick Kinley said the effects from this plastic pollution will be widespread and potentially leave a terrible legacy if not cleaned up now.
“The owners and operators of the YM Efficiency should be ashamed at the way they have treated the Newcastle and Port Stephens community,” Mr Kinley said.
“These containers are filled with plastic and if they are not removed then they will continue to degrade, periodically releasing their contents to wash up on the region’s beautiful beaches.
“If not dealt with now in a controlled manner, this will be a pollution legacy that future generations will have to deal with for decades.
“Yang Ming and their insurers Britannia P&I have tried every trick in the book to attempt to shirk their responsibilities to clean up their mess.
“It’s a disgrace, this all about saving them money.
“If Yang Ming and Britannia P&I continue to deny responsibility we will take all necessary action to make them pay.”
AMSA is committed to keeping the local community informed about the clean-up operation and will be holding community information sessions in the new year where members of the public will be given a detailed briefing on how the clean-up will take place and can ask any questions they like.