Pacific Quest, 25 December 2002

The Pacific Quest was found guilty of discharging an oily mixture from a ship into the sea near Border Island, Queensland on 25 December 2002.
Image showing a close-up of an oil slick on the surface of the water

On 25 December 2002, an oil slick was sighted by an aircraft east of Border Island near Hayman Island in the Whitsunday Islands group in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The initial extent of the slick was reported to be about 30-40 metres wide extending about 20 nautical miles in length. Customs National Marine Unit officers from the Australian Customs Vessel Botany Bay took samples from the sea that same day.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation was coordinated with AMSA and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), with assistance from Maritime Safety Queensland. AMSA took immediate action to identify ships in the vicinity of the oil spill, and commenced arrangements to obtain samples from suspect ships at Australian and overseas ports.

Six ships were identified as being in the vicinity at the time and samples from waste oil tanks were collected from all six ships. This included a sample taken from the Pacific Quest in Auckland, New Zealand by Maritime Safety Authority officers.

An official getting samples of oil from an oil slick

Collecting samples of oil from the oil slick

Several analytical tests were performed on the samples taken from the sea and the six ships. These tests confirmed the samples taken from the Pacific Quest matched with the samples from the slick.

Response authorities monitored the area for a number of days as the slick eventually dispersed naturally out to sea. There were no reports of environmental damage or affected wildlife.

Satellite imagery of the spill provided crucial evidence for the prosecution by showing the full extent of the slick and also helped to eliminate other ships from further investigation. Analysis of the imagery showed the total slick extent was more than 70 kilometres in length.

Vessel details

Name: Pacific Quest
IMO: 8130019
Port of Registry: Liberia
Owner: Mattrim Marine Inc.
Tonnage: 11 346 net, 31 403 gross, 32 631 dwt
Dimensions: 218 m L, 32.26 m B, 18.93 m D
Type: Container Carrier


On 2 June 2005, Mattrim Marine Inc., the owner of the vessel Pacific Quest, pleaded guilty to discharging an oily mixture from a ship into the sea. Charges against the Master were discontinued when Mattrim Marine Inc. agreed to plead guilty.

Image of a map showing the location of the oil slick

Imagery showing the oil slick in relation to land

The court took into account the following mitigating circumstances:

  • The spill did not cause any discernable environmental problems.
  • The defendant cooperated fully with authorities once a problem was identified including the provision of oil samples.
  • The defendant had continued investigations to try to find the crew members responsible.
  • The defendant had no previous convictions for similar offences.
  • The safety procedures on board the ship in relation to pollution measures and ongoing supervision seemed to be exemplary.


Mattrim Marine Inc. was convicted as charged and fined A$180,000.

Related information

Read about Australia's National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies.

Last updated: 9 November 2020