Master Fined for Breaching Great Barrier Reef Navigation Rules

MV Chinese Steel Developer (c) MarineTraffic.com/
MV China Steel Developer (c) MarineTraffic.com/Keith Foley

A Taiwanese ship captain has been fined over USD$6,000 for navigating his vessel through an area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park without a pilot.

The captain was in court in Newcastle on Monday facing charges of “Being the master of a ship that navigates without a pilot in the compulsory pilot area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, contrary to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Cth)”, according to the Australian Federal Police.

While in court, it was alleged that on January 1, 2015 the master of the 154,000 DWT coal carrier MV China Steel Developer, 66-year-old Chih-Ming Lu, attempted to depart Australian waters through Hydrographers Passage, a compulsory pilotage area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, without a pilot on board.

On Saturday February 14, 2015, Australian Federal Police officers and investigators from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) met the vessel soon after it docked in the Port of Newcastle, arresting Lu and charging him with breaching Great Barrier Reef navigation rules.

The captain originally faced a maximum fine of AUD$85,000 (about US$66,000) for the offense, although the fine was reduced to just AUD$8,000 after a judge returned the guilty verdict on Tuesday.

GBRMPA General Manager Andrew Skeat said the case should serve as example to all shipping companies to heed the rules on the use of compulsory pilots.

“For certain sections of the Great Barrier Reef and for particular types of vessels, the use of pilots is mandatory because they greatly enhance protection of animals, habitats and sensitive areas of the Marine Park, including coral reefs,” Skeat said.

“The Marine Park is one of the most regulated shipping areas in the world, with compulsory pilots forming one aspect of a comprehensive system that also includes the use of designated shipping areas, vessel traffic monitoring, and mandatory vessel reporting,” added Skeat.

At the time of the offense, the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic (REEFVTS) in Townsville detected the ship in the compulsory pilotage area and took action to stop the ship from leaving Australian waters. A statement of facts found that the ship travelled 4.88 kilometers into the restricted area without a pilot.

REEFVTS is a joint service operated by Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and the Maritime Safety Queensland.

“This shows the vital role of the REEFVTS in detecting the ship and ensuring it did not navigate through this compulsory pilotage area without a pilot onboard, as required,” AMSA Chief Executive Officer Mick Kinley said.