Sylvan Arrow , 18 December 1999

The Sylvan Arrow was found guilty of discharging an oily mixture into the sea west of Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria on 18 December 1999.
ocean and boat

At 12.48 pm the Sylvan Arrow made a course alteration to due east shortly prior to entering the traffic separation scheme area south of Wilson’s Promontory, travelling at approximately 13.5 knots. Following the alteration in course, the HMNZS Te Kaha was virtually directly astern to the west of the Sylvan Arrow and travelling east at 19 knots. At about 1.02 pm, the HMNZS Te Kaha passed slightly to the north of where the Sylvan Arrow had altered course.

At approximately 1.10 pm the commanding officer of the HMNZS Te Kaha observed an oil slick parallel to and 400 yards to the south of the HMNZS Te Kaha’s course. This sighting was duly reported to the duty fleet operations officer at the Australian Naval HQ in Sydney.

At the time, the Sylvan Arrow was approximately four nautical miles ahead, fine on the starboard bow of the HMNZS Te Kaha. The oil slick appeared as a distinct sheen and was between 30 to 50 metres wide and was observed trailing from the stern of the Sylvan Arrow.

At 1.30 pm HMNZS Te Kaha launched a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) to facilitate further inspection of the slick and to take samples. At about 2:00 pm a helicopter was launched from the HMNZS Te Kaha. From an altitude of 1500 feet the helo crew observed and photographed a slick trailing from the stern of the Sylvan Arrow (see picture above). The helo returned to HMNZS Te Kaha at 2.20 pm by which time the crew observed the slick had ceased from the Sylvan Arrow.

At about 2.15 pm the HMNZS Te Kaha made radio contact with the Sylvan Arrow. The master of the Sylvan Arrow indicated to the HMNZS Te Kaha that there appeared to be a problem with the 15ppm equipment on the Hamworthy oily water separator (OWS) on board.

The ship arrived at Noumea on 24 November 1999 and sailed then to Suva, Fiji and Pago Pago, American Samoa before returning to Melbourne.

A Section 3E Crimes Act 1914 search warrant was subsequently executed by Australian Federal Police (AFP) and AMSA officers on the ship at anchorage in Melbourne on 13 January 2000. A formal taped record of interview was then conducted with the master of the Sylvan Arrow the following day.


On 22 July 2003 in the County Court of Victoria, the Mobil Shipping and Transportation Company pleaded guilty upon an indictment filed that day to one count contrary to s.9 of the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 of discharging an oily mixture from its vessel the Sylvan Arrow.

The prosecution earlier discontinued proceedings against the master of the ship for the same offence.

Technical facts agreed to in evidence

  1. At the time of the discharge the Hamworthy OWS was being operated by the engineering crew of the Sylvan Arrow to process bilge water overboard. The specific manner in which the Hamworthy OWS failed to separate oil from water at a rate of 15ppm or less, and contributed to the discharge of an oily mixture in excess of 15ppm into the sea is unclear.
  2. A faulty relay in the Rivertrace OCD rendered the Hamworthy OWS automatic control system incapable of activating the audible alarm and the shutting down of the Hamworthy OWS pump when in excess of 15ppm was detected in the sample drawn from the discharge side of the Hamworthy OWS.
  3. The fourth engineer failed to notify the deck officer on watch prior to commencing the operation of the Hamworthy OWS so that a lookout could be posted astern of the Sylvan Arrow to ensure that any discharge from the vessel of an oily mixture in excess of 15ppm was detected as soon as possible.
  4. The third engineer failed to adequately monitor the operation of the Hamworthy OWS and Rivertrace OCD during his watch.
  5. Mobil Shipping and Transportation Company acknowledges that the third and fourth engineers were the company.
  6. The discharge of an oily mixture in excess of 15ppm from the Sylvan Arrow occurred from between about 12.50 pm and 2.15 pm on 18 December 1999.
  7. The discharge of an oily mixture in excess of 15ppm was approximately 31 kilometres in length and between 30 and 50 metres wide.
  8. The discharge of an oily mixture in excess of 15ppm had the potential to cause specific environmental damage. There is no evidence of such environmental damage.

Vessel particulars

Name: Sylvan Arrow
IMO: 8001268
Port of Registry: Majuro, Marshall Islands
Owner: Mobil Shipping & Transportation Company Pty. Ltd.
Tonnage: 13743 net, 22587 gross, 39371 dwt
Dimensions: 173.8 m L, 32 m B, 11.21 m D
Type: Chemical/Oil Carrier


On 19 August 2003, the defendant Mobil Shipping and Transportation Company was convicted and fined the sum of $100,000. Pursuant to a separate agreement the defendant also agreed to pay the Crown’s investigation costs in the amount of $26,555.59.

Sylvan Arrow at sea

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Last updated: 9 November 2020