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Correcting the record—NT News and Darwin Harbour vessel collision

Friday 26 April 2019
Correcting the record

The NT News recently reported on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s investigation of a vessel collision, under the headline ‘Fishos waiting for justice – Senate finds AMSA legislation botched’.

The collision was in Darwin Harbour in May 2016 between a barge and recreational fishing boat. The collision resulted in the sinking of the recreational fishing boat and the subsequent rescue of four fishermen from the sea.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) would like to express its sympathy for the distress suffered by the fishermen involved. 

AMSA recommended charges against the owner of the barge involved and there are currently seven charges before the courts.

AMSA was disappointed by the coverage of the investigation in the NT News and would like to correct the record on a particularly inaccurate and misleading aspect of the report.

The NT News incorrectly reported that, ‘under Australian maritime law, if a ship collided with another and was found at fault, there was no legal grounds for punishment from July 1, 2013 until December 2018’.

This is misleading and AMSA informed the NT News that the statement is incorrect before the story was published.

The collision of two vessels is not, in itself, a crime under maritime laws. There are many relevant offences under Commonwealth as well as State and Territory maritime laws, but these arise from the conduct of people involved and are specific to the circumstances of a collision.

It is correct that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) identified a possible drafting flaw in the Navigation Act 2012 and the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 related to the definition of Marine Orders, and the definition was clarified through amendment of the legislation in early December 2018.

However, there was no suggestion or finding that the possible flaw in the definition provisions made either of the Acts (or parts of the Acts) invalid and the need for clarification did not prevent successful prosecutions in relation to other incidents going back to 2013.

For example, a person in South Australia was found guilty in 2017 of an offence under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 for navigating a vessel in a dangerous manner, narrowly avoiding a serious collision.

AMSA recommended charges in relation to the collision in Darwin Harbour, including two against the master of the vessel. The decision not to proceed with those two charges was a decision of the CDPP.

As the NT News is aware, the CDPP did proceed with seven other charges in relation to the Darwin Harbour collision. These are currently before the courts, demonstrating the misleading nature of NT News reporting.