In a move which highlights that delays in the maritime industry
can prove costly in more ways than one, the Magistrates Court at
Brisbane recently imposed a substantial fine on a shipping line for
the late submission of a crew report.
Under the Customs Act 1901 the operator of a vessel due
to arrive at a port in Australia from a place outside Australia
must report to Customs on each member of the crew expected to be on
board the vessel at the time of its arrival. The crew report must
be made no earlier than 10 days but no later than 96 hours prior to
the vessel's estimated time of arrival.
Each offence carries a maximum penalty of $6,600, but a separate
offence is committed for each failure to report every individual
crew member. This means that to a significant extent the size of
the maximum fine is tied not to the gravity of the offence but to
the number of crew on board, with potentially unjust results. The
recent case illustrates the point.
A shipping line was fined $15,000 for late submission of a
report to Australian Customs on the 23 crew expected to be on board
a vessel at the time of its arrival in Australia. The report was
submitted only 56 hours before the vessel's estimated time of
arrival, some 40 hours late. The vessel submitted all other
paperwork for its impending arrival in full and on time.
The total maximum penalty available for all 23 offences would
have been a whopping $151,800, although Australian Customs sought
only a penalty of $1000 per offence for a total penalty of
In mitigation, the shipping line pointed out that most previous
prosecutions for the same offence concerned vessels that in many
cases simply arrived in Australia totally unannounced, without
having submitted customs paperwork at all (rather than merely
somewhat late). The shipping line submitted that in circumstances
where they had completed all other paperwork concerning the
vessel's arrival properly, and had only submitted a single
report late, the fine imposed should be relatively minimal,
regardless of the number of crew involved.
The magistrate imposed a fine of 10% of the maximum penalty per
offence – $660 – which totalled $15,180 (rounded to
$15,000) when applied to all 23 offences. As far as we are aware,
this fine is the largest fine ever imposed for this offence, not
because the shipping line's conduct was notably poor, but
merely because the vessel involved had a substantial crew while all
previous offences concerned far smaller vessels.
Although $660 per crew member in and of itself may not break the
bank, this case clearly demonstrates how a seemingly small
oversight could quickly add up to a significant fine in a
commercial shipping context where vessels have large crew numbers.
Moreover, $660 per crewmember was the fine imposed for a first
offence for the late submission of the crew report – a
complete failure to submit a report is likely to illicit a much
higher penalty. The fine that would be imposed in similar
circumstances on a cruise vessel with hundreds (or more) of crew
could be extremely substantial.
The very simple lesson to be taken away from this cautionary
tale is that crew reports, and all other required customs reports
for that matter, must be not just submitted but submitted
on time to avoid the risk of a potentially
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