Panama Company Faces $17m Fine for Spilling Tonnes of Oil


A Panama-based company faces a fine of up to $17 million for allegedly spilling about 15 tonnes of oil near the Great Barrier Reef.

It is alleged the oil came from the ship Regina, owned by company Globex Shipping.

In court documents seen by the ABC, it is alleged the offence occurred at Pakhoi Bank, within a designated shipping lane in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Between 10 and 15 tonnes of oil washed up on beaches north of Townsville to Hinchinbrook Island and the Palm Island group in July 2015, requiring a clean up costing $1.5 million.

The clean-up effort took two weeks — at least two sea birds died and a turtle had to be rehabilitated for six weeks.

Globex Shipping will face the Townsville Magistrates Court in August charged with discharge of oil into the sea.

The $17-million fine is the maximum penalty the company can face can face if found guilty under the Commonwealth legislation.

World Wildlife Fund’s Richard Leck said ships with poor safety and maintenance records should be banned from the region.

“The reef is too precious to risk by letting rogue ships come through the reef’s waters and potentially have a major disaster on our doorstep,” he said

“We’re playing Russian roulette with the Great Barrier Reef.”

Globex Shipping’s legal representation Thynne and Macartney has not responded to the ABC’s request for comment.

Global search to identify culprit

Queensland Ports Minister Mark Bailey said officers travelled around the world to identify the culprit.

“This is a very complex case. Seventeen ships could have been possibilities, we had an oil match against the samples of the beaches with seventeen ships who went to all parts of the globe,” he said.

“Every oil sample from every ship is unique, and so there’s been a process of matching them up.”

Mr Bailey said the charges would send the message to the shipping industry that polluters will be caught.

“If you do the wrong thing and pollute our beaches, and pollute our reef, we will track you down and prosecute you,” he said.

“I was outraged… I wanted us to make sure that we’ve made an example of the culprits because nobody reported this. That’s the thing, nobody reported this as a problem, they get away with it — but not in Queensland”

Authorities likely to struggle to recover fines: expert

University of Queensland maritime and commercial law expert Professor Nick Gaskell said even if the prosecution was to be successful, authorities might struggle to recover any fines imposed.

“The difficulty for a government is in trying to enforce fines abroad because most states would not recognise those fines,” he said.

“If the defendant doesn’t appear then you’ve got a real difficulty in enforcing those fines. Of course, if the ship comes to your shores again then it’s at risk.”

Professor Gaskell said it could be possible for the Queensland Government to recover the clean-up costs by dealing with the insurance industry.

“Most ships would have insurance cover for fines, provided it’s an accidental discharge,” he said.

“In many cases, the insurers might want to stand behind the ship owner because the insurer itself may well be directly liable for all the clean-up costs caused by the pollution.”

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Source: ABC


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