Captain Faces Criminal Charges for Dragging Anchor in High Winds


Published Aug 23, 2021 1:03 AM by The Maritime Executive

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have filed criminal charges against the 59-year-old master of the container ship Maersk Surabaya after his vessel dragged anchor into a designated telecom cable area in high winds. 

The Surabaya's anchor allegedly damaged a key subsea telecom cable off the coast of West Australian coast in early August. The agency says that it is the first time it has pursued prosecution for this alleged offense.

According to the AFP, a section of the subsea communications cable in a designated cable protection zone located just off Perth's City Beach was disabled early on August 1 2021. Reports that a vessel had damaged the cable were reported two days later, and investigators searched the vessel and seized its logs when it docked in Melbourne.  

Police asserted that Maersk Surabaya had anchored about 500 meters away from the cable protection zone, then allegedly dragged its anchor through the area in high winds, snagging and damaging the cable. The cable break took 12 days to repair, according to local media, and the damages totaled about $1 million.

"The protection zone is clearly marked on maritime charts and all vessel masters should ensure vessels operate in a manner which does not interfere with critical communications infrastructure,” said AFP Detective Superintendent Graeme Marshall in a statement.

Though the captain did not anchor within the protection zone, he has been criminally charged with negligent conduct resulting in damage to the cable, a violation of Australia's Telecommunications Act 1997. The offense carries a potential maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $40,000 fine. The vessel's owner and operator have not been accused of wrongdoing.  

The captain has been granted bail and is currently in hotel quarantine, per Australia's COVID-19 regulations, according to the AFP.