Following highly publicised recent incidents involving oil
discharges and reef groundings, the Queensland government has
drastically increased maximum penalties for marine pollution, and
the Queensland courts are imposing greater fines than previously
seen for navigational offences in the Great Barrier Reef Marine
The maximum penalties for discharge of oil or noxious liquid
substances or harmful substances in Queensland waters have risen
from $1.75 million to $10 million for corporations and from
$350,000 to $500,000 for individuals. The offences are of strict
liability (ie fault or negligence is not required) although there
are limited defences available in some circumstances.
The government has said that these tough penalties are designed
to 'send a clear warning' to shipping companies that
breaches of marine pollution laws will not be tolerated.
As many readers would know, except in an emergency or with
special permission, it is an offence to navigate a ship through a
restricted zone of the Marine Park, even unintentionally.
In a recent prosecution, the master and two watchkeeping
officers of a vessel were prosecuted because the vessel transited
two restricted zones of the Marine Park. The master and both of the
officers were fined $70,000 (total $210,000).
These fines were a fourfold increase on fines previously imposed
for similar past infringements. The penalty hearing occurred
against the backdrop of antagonistic public sentiment towards
shipping in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park following an
unrelated grounding and oil pollution incident.
Prosecuting authorities will now allege that the most recent
fines form the new benchmark for fines in future.
It is imperative that voyage planning in the Great Barrier Reef
take into account the restrictions on movement in that region and
that any charts and passage planning guidelines are regularly
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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