No hiding place for ships polluting seas
One of the biggest shipping companies in the world has been prosecuted for dumping waste in Cornish waters after being captured on satellite, in what has been called a landmark case in the battle against the pollution of the seas.
A Singaporean-registered Maersk Group tanker's owners were found guilty and fined £22,500 yesterday for dumping a mixture of palm oil and tank cleaning fluid within 12 miles of Land's End last year – leaving a slick 20 miles long.
The unique trial at Truro Magistrates Court has been highlighted as the first time satellite footage has been used by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in the prosecution of a company for dumping waste illegally in the UK.
The agency, which is responsible for protecting the nation's shoreline, had previously been reliant on eyewitness accounts from passing planes and ships for its prosecutions and said the use of satellite was a new "weapon" in their "armoury".
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The news is expected to please environmentalists too – especially in light of the high-profile PIB scandal earlier this year which left thousands of seabirds dead after they washed up covered in the "sticky substance" along the Westcountry coastline.
Captain Andrew Phillips, the investigating officer in the MCA's enforcement unit, said it wouldn't have been able to lead the prosecution if it was not for the satellite.
"Polluters beware," he said. "The sea's not a dumping ground and we've got the means to prosecute you.
"(In the past) we would not have known anything had been going on, up until now all of our cases have relied on eyewitness evidence or self reporting.
"Where we have the clear evidence the MCA will take legal action. (The new satellite footage means that) we can find the polluters and we can identify them.
"Up until now we were reliant on passing planes and ships reporting to us, whereas this gives us UK-wide coverage. It's another weapon in our armoury."
The case in Truro yesterday represented the first time satellite footage passed to the MCA by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) had been used in a successful conviction.
Speaking in court for the prosecution, Kevin Elliott, said the MCA had first been alerted by EMSA on February 25, 2012 after its satellites detected the tanker Maersk Kiera, registered to Singapore Private Ltd, trailing a slick.
Falmouth Coastguard had contacted the ship but were told on two occasions by its second officer that it was not trailing a slick.
In a third correspondence, the master of the ship, which was travelling between Liverpool and Latvia, confirmed that tank cleaning and associated discharge of palm oil was being undertaken, however it was outside the 12- mile restriction.
He said that further communications were made between the operators and MCA but it took 14 months for the company to eventually admit to a breach of UK Pollution Legislation.
He said: "The rules with limits are there for a reason and a decision was taken by Parliament and the European Convention that this sort of discharge taking place within 12 miles will have a detrimental effect on the environment.
"The propensity to cause pollution and damage was great."
Speaking for the defence, Joe Quain said that although the slick was 20 miles long, only eight to ten miles was inside the 12-mile limit.
He said that it discharged around 75 cubic metres of mixed fluids within the limits which would have included tank cleaning fluids and up to 26 litres of palm oil.
But Mr Elliott said although there was no direct evidence for the damage caused by the pollution but that the potential was great.
John Richardson, the chairman of the bench, fined the owners of the Maersk Kiera, Maersk Tankers Singapore Pte Limited, £15,000 with a £120 victim surcharge and prosecution costs of £7,404.88.
Sentencing, he said: "Regulations against discharge are there for a good reason.
"There has been little real mitigation offered by the defence. This is a medium to high risk case."
Captain Jeremy Smart, head of enforcement at the MCA, said: "This is the first time satellite imagery has been successfully used as primary evidence in a maritime pollution prosecution by the MCA. The agency will use all means available to identify and prosecute those carrying out illegal discharges.."