Bilge Discharge off Australian Coast Lands Bulker in Hot Water

Headland on Esperance's wild coastline (Fctdolas / CC BY SA 4.0)
Headland on Esperance's wild coastline (Fctdolas / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Dec 7, 2023 10:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

An ill-timed discharge of bilgewater has gotten the owner and master of a Chinese bulker in trouble with the authorities in Western Australia. 

The trouble started when the chief mate of the bulker TS Golf decided to pump out sulfur-contaminated bilge water from a cargo hold. The vessel was transiting off the town of Esperance and was 15 nautical miles offshore, outside of the 12-mile line - but this was not far enough to prevent problems with the law. A commercial helicopter pilot noticed a green discharge coming from the ship and alerted the local harbormaster, who launched an investigation with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). 

During the inquiry, the chief mate told AMSA that he had been "absent-minded" when he began the discharge, and that it was not intentional. The ship's master said that he had understood the seriousness of the incident and called a safety meeting to discuss the matter shortly after it happened. 

At a hearing at the Kalgoorie Magistrate Court this week, Magistrate Janie Gibbs said that while the captain of the ship was still liable for his chief mate's error, he had shown remorse and had apologized.  She classified the degree of harm from the discharge as "medium or low," and scheduled sentencing for January 19. 

Under Australian law, the shipowner -  Minsheng Haike (Tianjin) Shipping Leasing Company - is liable for a fine of up to a maximum of US$145,000. The master could be fined as much as US$29,000. 

The authorities are taking the release seriously in part because of its location. Esperance's wild coastline is home to multiple national parks and pristine beaches, and it is an iconic tourist destination for Western Australia. Magistrate Gibbs noted that "even minor pollution" could have an effect in such an idyllic region. 

Top image: Headland on Esperance's coastline (Fctdolas / CC BY SA 4.0)