Cape Upstart oil spill charges welcomed
Ports Minister Mark Bailey says legal proceedings against two parties allegedly responsible for the Cape Upstart oil spill nearly two years ago sends a strong message to the shipping industry when navigating Queensland’s waters and the Great Barrier Reef.
The case against the master and owner of a ship allegedly responsible for the 2015 oil spill is currently before the courts in Townsville.
Mr Bailey welcomed the news and said a decision by government to commence legal action followed a complex joint agency investigation over 12 months and demonstrates Queensland and the Commonwealth’s strong determination to discourage potential polluters and protect the Great Barrier Reef.
“Up to 15 tonnes of oil washed up near Cape Upstart in July 2015 on beaches north of Townsville including Forrest Beach on the mainland, to Hinchinbrook Island and the Palm Island Group,” Mr Bailey said.
“Maritime Safety Queensland led the joint agency investigation in cooperation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
“The pollution response included the combined resources of Maritime Safety Queensland, RoadTek, Parks and Wildlife, SES and local council workers carrying out a lengthy and careful shore-line clean-up.”
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef Dr Steven Miles said during the clean-up it took two weeks to remove the oil from the island and mainland beaches between Palm Island and Hinchinbrook Island.
“Luckily, there was only a small number of animals affected by the spill. EHP treated a juvenile flatback turtle and two seabirds for oil exposure,” Dr Miles said.
“Sadly, the sea birds could not be saved but the turtle was successfully rehabilitated over six weeks and released back into the ocean.”
Mr Bailey said investigators then identified 17 ships which had been in the area 72 hours prior to the spill occurring.
“Investigators tracked down these individual ships, many of which were on international voyages, checked on-board records, interviewed crews and took oil samples for elimination testing against samples from the spill,” Mr Bailey said.
“The next stage was to allow the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions time to review the evidence and consider proceeding to prosecution of an alleged offender which has now happened.”
It’s alleged the master and the owner committed an offence contrary to section 9(1) (B) of the Commonwealth Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983.
Maximum fines for a corporation for a discharge offence is $17 million under Commonwealth law.
Minister Bailey said the estimated cost of the oil spill response was up to $1.5 million.
“The Palaszczuk Government vowed that we would relentlessly pursue anyone wilfully or negligently polluting our coastal waters, especially the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area and this investigation and subsequent charges demonstrates our resolve,” Mr Bailey said.
“This is an extremely complex legal process involving both Australian and international maritime law.
“I would like to again thank the State and Commonwealth agencies which responded to the incident and also to the regional councils in the impacted area for their full support of the response program. It was a great example of all levels of government working together to protect our reef and our coastline.”