Devon disaster could happen here


The recent grounding of the stricken container vessel MSC Napoli off the World Heritage listed UK’s Devon coastline is a potent reminder of what could easily go wrong with shipping in Australia’s sensitive and highly valuable waterways such as Port Phillip warn Blue Wedges campaigners   

“The latest UK disaster focuses our concerns over the seemingly endless demands from the shipping and container industry to squeeze bigger ships with even more containers into our waterways – which may already be at their ecological tipping point. We are being asked to accept huge environmental risks purely so shipping companies can save a few dollars per container moving more containers on bigger ships that are obviously not always up to the task.” says Blue Wedges spokesperson Jenny Warfe.

So far, over 200 containers have slipped off the deck of Napoli, broken apart on the rocky shore and spread their dangerous contents along the Devon coastline – famed for its fossil sites and spectacular coastal scenery. An 8 km long oil slick is threatening sea-birds and marine life and over 2,000 more containers are at risk of slipping into the sea losing their dangerous and some toxic contents including sulphuric acid, explosives and flammable material, cars and parts, with the ship listing at 35 degrees. Local fishmongers and restaurateurs are deeply concerned for the lobsters and crabs usually caught in Branscombe Bay where the ship has been beached.

“We suggest PoMC sends observers to the UK to study the salvage and clean up operations and costs involved. The tidal currents at Port Phillip Heads are considerably greater than those where the MSC Napoli is beached, adding further complications to a grounding event in Port Phillip Bay; however, visiting the MSC Napoli would provide invaluable insights into potential salvage and clean up costs of a grounding and oil spill event should a similar accident occur here” says Ms. Warfe.  

“The Napoli is a ship like so many that the PoMC wishes to cater for in its present channel deepening proposal – it is 13.5 metres draught and 275 metres long - well within the parameters PoMC wants to squeeze through Port Phillip Bay’s beautiful Marine Parks region at the treacherous, narrow and rocky entrance to the Bay. The Port of Melbourne Corporation may well have allowed ships of similar standards to the Napoli into port – in 2005 a single skinned oil tanker Genmar Commander (flagged in Monrovia) was photographed in Port Phillip Bay – had it run aground like the double skinned Desh Rakshak did at The Heads in January 2006, the outcome might have been very different. The Genmar Commander could have been the Exxon Valdez of Port Phillip Bay.

Although it has not been possible to ascertain whether the Napoli in its current incarnation has entered the Port of Melbourne, in 2001 whilst still called CMA CGM Normandie, it ran aground at full speed on a coral reef in the Straits of Malacca and was stranded for 60 days before being extensively repaired in Vietnam: these repairs included welding more than 3,000 tonnes of metal onto the hull. The Normandie was also cited in the Commonwealth House of Representatives Hansard on 10th May 2005 as one of a number of ships which has imported ammonium nitrate into Australia in the last 6 years”.

State government seems intent on risking our natural assets so we can import more and more goods, assisting companies like (Swiss privately owned) MSC to maximize its profits for a few faceless company directors. Meanwhile it’s the local community which has to bear the risks like those presently being suffered by the people and wildlife in Devon. There has been no mention of how much MSC is going to contribute to the environmental clean up and compensation costs – in fact MSC Napoli appears not to exist anymore according to the MSC website. Shipping accidents are a common occurrence, but the shipping industry seems able to devolve its clean-up responsibilities onto the community.

The more and bigger the ships we invite here, the shorter the time we will have to wait before we experience a similar disaster. We challenge the PoMC to assure us, by way of an environmental bond that reflects the real cost of such a disaster, that it could never happen to us. Likewise we challenge MSC to put up the real costs of this disaster rather than it being borne by the taxpayer and other insurance customers.

Until the shipping industry pays its way we will continue to be fed the urban myth that shipping is clean, green and cheap. Disasters like this remind us they are not clean or green, and they are only ‘cheap’ because they use and trash our local environments all around the world at no cost to them” says Ms. Warfe.

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