The YM Efficiency, operated by Taiwan shipping company Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation, was sailing from Taiwan to Sydney in early June when it lost dozens of containers overboard amid five-meter swells in the Tasman Sea, about 30 kilometers off Australia's east coast.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), citing serious potential impacts to local fishing and the environment, said it has been "extremely concerned at the lack of progress in locating the remaining containers" and "the absence of any attempt to assess the need to recover the containers and debris found so far on the seabed."
AMSA is taking matters into its own hands and last week signed a contract to send ROVs to collect imagery of the containers and any associated debris to help salvage experts determine whether the items can be recovered safely and without further damage to the environment.
A July survey performed by Yang Ming and the ship’s insurers, Aus Ship, located approximately 37 containers, but further search operations have been delayed by weather and sea conditions. There are as many as 42 containers still missing, AMSA’s analysis indicates.
The lost containers contain a large amount of plastics that, if not recovered, will break down over time and spread as microplastics, affecting habitats and species over a wide area, AMSA said. A large amount of debris has already been recovered from New South Wales Central Coast beaches since the containers were lost.
In addition, AMSA said it has received three credible reports of trawler hook-ups on containers or other materials lost from the YM Efficiency.
“The presence of these containers in the valuable fishing grounds off Newcastle presents an unacceptable risk to local fishers,” said AMSA Chief Executive Officer Mick Kinley. “The dangers of hooking up on debris has understandably led to many local trawlers avoiding these valuable areas which not only impacts their livelihood but also has knock-on effects for the local industry.”
Further delays to assess the containers and debris field are "no longer acceptable", AMSA said. Its ROV survey is expected to begin this week and take several weeks to complete.
"While we would have preferred that Yang Ming or their insurers had taken further action, consistent with our function to combat pollution in the marine environment AMSA is contracting a third party to conduct a ROV assessment of the containers and debris field identified to date," AMSA said.
Kinley noted, “This operation will not be without cost which AMSA has advised Yang Ming and their insurers that we will be seeking to recover.”
“We look forward to meaningful cooperation and action from Yang Ming and their insurers to deal with both the economic loss being suffered by the fishing industry and the removal of the hazard created by the loss of the containers from their ship,” Kinley said.