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Gard News 202, May/July 2011

Maximum penalties for discharge of oil or noxious liquid substances or harmful substances in Queensland waters have increased considerably.



As many readers will already be aware there has been a number of significant and highly publicised incidents in Queensland in recent years involving the spillage of bunker fuel on the Queensland coast (PACIFIC ADVENTURER) and grounding on the Great Barrier Reef (SHEN NENG 1). As a result, the Queensland government has significantly increased the maximum penalties applicable to marine pollution offences.

The maximum penalties for discharge of oil or noxious liquid substances or harmful substances in Queensland waters have increased from AUD 1.75 million to AUD 10 million for corporations and from AUD 350,000 to AUD 500,000 for individuals. Of course, the actual penalties imposed by a court will be somewhere in a range up to the maximum and will reflect a court's findings as to the severity and circumstances of the discharge. These are, however, significant increases that bring Queensland into line with other Australian jurisdictions like New South Wales.

These tough new penalties came into force in May 2010, in the main, to discourage ships from attempting to avoid compliance with the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 (Qld) (TOMPA), which establishes a regime where the onus is on the shipowner or master to prevent pollution. The offences are strict liability offences albeit defences under MARPOL may be available.

In addition to the higher penalties being imposed for the discharge of oil or noxious liquid substances or harmful substances, Queensland authorities are also seeking to deter unlawful navigation of vessels through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. As readers may know, the Great Barrier Reef is a protected area under Australian law and ship traffic through it is heavily restricted. The penalty for navigating through a prohibited area (whether unintentionally or otherwise - save for emergencies or with special permission) is a fine of up to AUD 220,000 or three years' imprisonment. The owner and master of the vessel may also be charged with strict liability offences attracting penalties up to AUD 275,000 and AUD 50,000 respectively.

In a highly publicised case in April 2010 a master and two officers were prosecuted following their vessel's transit of two prohibited areas within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Each was fined AUD 70,000 representing a very significant increase on fines previously imposed in similar cases and it is expected that these fines will form the basis for future cases.

A proposal to extend the area for mandatory reporting and compulsory pilotage in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is currently under discussion; however, it can be seen that Queensland authorities have signalled a readiness to come down much harder on marine pollution and navigational infringements within their territorial seas.

We thank Messrs Bayside Shipping Services Pty Ltd, Sydney, for the above information.

Any comments to this article can be e-mailed to the Gard News Editorial Team.