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Australian waters YM Efficiency container spill - Update

by NSW Maritime 6 Feb 23:28 UTC
YM Efficiency container spill: What's happening now © NSW Maritime

On 1 June 2018 the container ship YM Efficiency lost 81 containers overboard into Australian Commonwealth Waters, on the Newcastle-Port Stephens coast.

Five containers have been removed and there are 16 containers yet to be located.

Contractors removed approximately 1040 tonnes of pollution from around 400 kilometres of shoreline including plastics, furniture, tyres and paper products.

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. On 12 December 2019, we signed a contract with Ardent Oceania for the removal and disposal of 60 containers.

The salvage operation will start in March 2020, and the recovery of the containers is expected to be completed within a month, subject to weather conditions.

Debris recovered from the ocean, will be transported to a specially constructed waste reception facility in the Port of Newcastle.

Here the waste will be classified, stored, transported and disposed of according to NSW Environmental Protection Authority Waste Guidelines.

Risk mitigation will be undertaken to reduce any effects on the marine and coastal environment during the pollution recovery operations.

Getting the job done

  • Ardent Oceania will be tasked to recover the containers, debris and other pollution from the seabed using an offshore salvage vessel, equipped with specially designed salvage tools.

  • A remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROUV) will be deployed to support recovery operations. The ROUV is equipped to manage crane strops and wires, cut containers to separate them or create water egress holes and to pick up loose debris.

  • A crane will deposit a large custom fabricated metal basket near the container and the ROUV will assist with attaching the crane to the container and lift it into the basket. The basket sides are enclosed with small mesh to minimise any spill during lifting and recovery operations.

  • On surfacing, the basket and container will be slowly lifted to drain, then removed by crane for storage on the ship.

  • There will be no access to containers and the container and contents will be secured until brought ashore and managed according to NSW Environmental Protection Authority Waste Classification Guidelines.

  • If a container can't be lifted into the basket, the crane will load debris and container components into the basket with a hydraulic grab. Once on board, loose debris will be placed in enclosed bins for removal in port.

  • A small workboat will scour the local sea surface to retrieve any debris which may escape during a lift.

  • The ROUV will assess remaining seabed debris and help guide a crane grab to clear the site.
  • Finally RUOV will survey the site and provide evidence the site is clear of debris before moving to the next container location.

Onshore containment and disposal

Port of Newcastle will host a temporary area to receive, manage and transport recovered waste.

A bunding area will be constructed to prevent water pollution from the site entering Port waters.

The waste management plan and processes will be reviewed and agreed to with NSW EPA to ensure consistency with their regulatory requirements.

Biosecurity protocols have been addressed with both Australian Border Force and the Department of Agriculture.

Cost Recovery

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.

The ship's owners Yang Ming are responsible for retrieving containers and meeting the costs of retrieving containers - the principle being that the polluter pays. Yang Ming's failure to fulfil their obligations to retrieve the containers has meant that AMSA has stepped in to start the recovery operation. AMSA intends to recover all costs associated with the clean-up from Yang Ming and its insurer Britannia P&I.

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