Media Release Uncategorised

Failed court case leaves no one accountable for toxic mess in the Harbour

November 13, 2020

Keep Top End Coasts Healthy has today expressed concern over the failed prosecution of the owners and masters of a cargo ship following a major oil spill in Darwin Harbour on 19 August 2016. Today, Local Court Judge John Neill dismissed the case.

Adele Pedder, from Keep Top end Coasts Healthy, said: “In 2016 our precious Harbour, our coastal backyard, suffered from a devastating oil spill that spread across 30kms of the coast. Today’s failed prosecution means no one is being held accountable for this terrible toxic mess.

“Darwin Harbour is suffering from the impacts of industrial development, mangrove destruction and toxic pollution. This is yet another blow to the health of our Harbour and wildlife.”

The NT Department of Environment stated that the 30km spill impacted mangroves, intertidal mudflats and coastal zones, which provide habitat for species like turtles, spawning fish, mud crabs and the critically endangered eastern curlew.

Pedder said procedural issues meant that a conviction could not be brought against the owners of the Antung cargo ship, who had been charged with offences relating to the spill.

Changes made to the Marine Pollution Legislation Amendment Act will better enable the Territory to pursue justice for marine pollution caused by ships in future cases, Pedder added.

“Legal protection for our marine and coastal environments is essential to ensure the owners of ships and all operators on the Harbour act with respect and are held to account. This is particularly important in Darwin where we are seeing significant increases in industrial activity and associated shipping.”

Pedder said she hoped lessons were learned by NT authorities, who have been criticised for their slow reaction to the spill.

— ENDS —

Contact: Adele Pedder 0422 108 539

1 – Prosecution Proceedings Commenced Over Oil Spill in Darwin Harbour. 27 September 2018.
2 – Darwin Harbour oil spill response by EPA questioned. 20 August 2016.

Notes to editors:

The master of the ship had been charged with the following offences under the Marine Pollution Act
and Marine Pollution Regulations:

  •  Discharging oil into coastal waters resulting in material environmental harm (s14(4) Marine
    Pollution Act)
  •  Discharging oil into coastal waters (s14(5) Marine Pollution Act)
  • Failing to notify a discharge of oil whilst in coastal waters (s50(1) Marine Pollution Act)
  • Failing to make appropriate entry into oil record book as a result of a recordable event
    (regulation 10(1) Marine Pollution Regulations)

Legal shortcomings in the NT Marine Pollution Act and Regulations:

  •  The NT Marine Pollution Act required legal proceedings to commence within two years of the
    offence occurring or within two years of the offence coming to the knowledge of the
    department. Two years does not allow sufficient time to properly complete investigations and
    prepare a legal case due to the complex nature of international shipping. The new Marine
    Pollution Legislation Amendment Act 2019 removes any time limit for commencing proceedings.
  •  Under the provisions of the Act, for foreign-owned vessels, once the vessel has left Territory
    waters, it is not possible to serve documents required for legal proceedings on the agent. The
    new Marine Pollution Legislation Amendment Act 2019 facilitates the service of documents and
    aims to avoid this problem