Work has begun to retrieve around 60 shipping containers lost from the Liberia-flagged containership YM Efficiency off the coast of Newcastle, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.
To date, three containers have been retrieved since 6 April and there are 59 containers still to be recovered.
The three container were successfully lifted from the ocean bed, transferred into the basked and on board the salvage vessel MV Pride without releasing any further pollution into the environment, according to AMSA.
Earlier this month, the recovery vessel arrived in Newcastle and began salvage operations in clear weather with a moderate swell and slight seas, at the site of the main cluster of containers off the Hunter Coast in New South Wales.
In December 2019, AMSA signed a contract with Ardent Oceania for the removal and disposal of 60 containers.
Debris recovered from the ocean during the ongoing salvage operation 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.
Missing containers located
During pre-lift surveillance of one of the container sites, an additional two containers were identified for recovery that were previously unaccounted for.
This site was previously believed to contain two containers joined together but with the better cameras aboard the MV Pride’s remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROUV), it was discovered there are actually four containers at this site.
“The finding means the number of shipping containers being salvaged as part of Operation Recovery – YM Efficiency, now total 62 and there are only 14 containers yet to be located,” AMSA said in an update.
Operation Recovery – YM Efficiency is expected to continue throughout April, weather conditions permitting.
YM Efficiency incident
In June 2018, the 4,250 TEU boxship, managed by Taiwanese shipping company Yang Ming, was steaming slowly into strong gale force winds and very rough seas off Newcastle, en route to Sydney, when it suddenly rolled heavily, causing container stacks to collapse and topple.
As a result, 81 containers were lost overboard and a further 62 were damaged, while the 2009-built ship sustained structural damage to its lashing bridges, superstructure, and accommodation ladder.
Contractors removed approximately 1,040 tonnes of pollution from around 400 kilometres of shoreline including plastics, furniture, tyres and paper products.
However, leaving the containers in-situ is believed to pose “an unacceptable environmental risk” for the local community and future generations. It also presents a safety risk to local fishers.
Since the initial clean-up, AMSA said it has attempted to engage with the Taiwanese shipowner Yang Ming, about the company’s ongoing responsibility to remove the remaining containers from the seafloor. However, 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,” AMSA pointed out.
“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.”
Check out AMSA’s video footage of the remote underwater vessel connecting rigging to the steel recovery basket and lifting a container onto the MV Pride.