Wildlife threat after Christmas Island spill

Press release - 9 January, 2012

Sydney, Tuesday 10 January, 2012: Greenpeace is calling on the Australian Government to dramatically tighten maritime safely regulations following the sinking of a phosphate ship on the coast of Christmas Island.

The Tycoon, built in 1983, flies under a Panamanian flag of convenience and is beneficially owned by Taiwanese firm Ocean Grow International Ship Management. From 2004, every year, during inspections, the ship has been found to have a number of serious deficiencies. Most recently, in October 2011, an inspection in Malaysia found problems with the vessel’s magnetic compass, ventilation, lifebuoys, and other safety equipment. In 2010 the ship was detained in Vietnam due to a long series of failings including the ship’s radio communications, abidance with international oil pollution legislation, navigational safety, lifesaving and fire safety equipment.
Most pertinently, its mooring arrangements and load lines were also found to be faulty.
“It is shocking that this kind of rust bucket is allowed to operate in Australian waters,” said Greenpeace spokesperson James Lorenz. “With a planned tripling of coal export vessels transiting through the Great Barrier Reef in the coming years, unless regulations are dramatically tightened, it is only a matter of time before we face a disaster of far greater magnitude. We have to ask ourselves if this is a risk we are willing to take.”
The heavy seas experienced at the time of the Tycoon incident are likely to spread the fuel and lubricant oils on board over a considerable area. These may persist in the marine environment for considerable periods of time and, if deposited, may continue to leach oil constituent chemicals into the water where they can be taken up by organisms causing toxic effects. Fringe reef ecosystems, like those surrounding Christmas Island, are extremely delicate. They are vulnerable to damage by oil spills and time for recovery from any significant oiling (should it occur), must be measured in terms of years rather than months.
“Real concerns exist about why the vessel was left moored when heavy seas were forecast,” said Lorenz. “Sea conditions on Christmas Island will continue to make any attempt to manage the sinking difficult and even if they improve, the Island’s Administrator has stated that they are not equipped to effectively deal with any major oil spills.”
James Lorenz – 0400 376 021