AMSA to deploy drones to assess YM Efficiency containers
On Thursday, 8 November, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) signed a contract to commence operations with Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles (ROUVs) to investigate the containers lost from the YM Efficiency.
The ship’s insurers, Aus Ship, and operators, Yang Ming, conducted survey operations in the area in July, which located approximately 37 containers. There have been significant delays in further search operations caused by weather and sea conditions. While activities recommenced on Friday 19 October, AMSA’s analysis of the completed surveys indicates that there are as many as 42 containers still missing.
Notwithstanding the weather conditions being a factor hampering the search, AMSA 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.
“The presence of these containers in the valuable fishing grounds off Newcastle presents an unacceptable risk to local fishers,” AMSA Chief Executive Officer Mick Kinley said.
“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.”
AMSA has received three credible reports of trawler hook-ups on containers or other materials lost from the YM Efficiency.
In addition to the economic effects, the consequences for the marine environment of leaving these containers and their contents on the sea floor is of serious concern.
Scientific advice to AMSA indicates several environmental concerns - the most serious being the large amount of plastics contained in the lost containers in the form of consumer products and packaging.
Plastics not recovered will break down over time and spread as microplastics - affecting habitats and species over a wide area. These impacts will become more severe the longer the debris stays on the sea floor and potentially pose a threat for decades ahead as containers rust and release their contents.
AMSA has decided that further delays are no longer acceptable. 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 ROUV assessment of the containers and debris field identified to date.
“This operation will not be without cost which AMSA has advised Yang Ming and their insurers that we will be seeking to recover.”
The ROUVs will descend to the ocean floor and provide imagery of the containers and any associated debris that has been identified by the surveys so far. These images will allow an assessment by salvage experts on whether the items can be brought to the surface safely and without causing more damage to the environment.
The survey activity is expected to begin in about a week and take several weeks to complete, AMSA will keep local fishers and the community informed of the progress and the plans to remove the debris as soon as possible.
“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,” Mr Kinley said.