Overboard container loss investigation underway

The APL England on Wednesday was escorted to the Port of Brisbane, where Australian officials will investigate an at-sea incident in which 40 containers were lost overboard and nearly 75 others were damaged.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) surveyors conducted an inspection of the container ship at anchorage on Tuesday and determined the vessel was structurally sound and could be safely brought into port. Two harbor tugs, one container salvage response vessel, two Queensland water police vessels and a Maritime Safety Queensland pollution response vessel escorted the APL England into Moreton Bay.

As a Singapore-flagged ship in Australian waters, the APL England will be checked for compliance with both national and international maritime safety standards, the AMSA said. Australian officials will be looking in particularly to see if any national environmental protection regulations or standards that apply to the safe and secure carriage of cargo were breached. 

The first phase of the investigation is expected to take at least a month, according to the AMSA, which said it could take action against various parties, including the ship’s owner.

ANL, which operates the APL England, issued a statement Wednesday in which it said the containers fell overboard after the ship experienced a brief loss of propulsion about 40 nautical miles off the coast of Sydney on Sunday morning.

“Propulsion was quickly restored, but due to very heavy seas and weather conditions throughout the region, approximately 40 containers were dislodged from their secure mountings and fell overboard. Twenty-one of these containers were empty,” ANL said.

ANL — Australian National Line — has been part of the French CMA CGM Group since 1998. CMA CGM acquired APL in 2016.

ANL said none of the containers carried contents regulated by the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. The ship was en route from Ningbo, China, to Melbourne, Australia, at the time of the incident. 

The AMSA said Tuesday it had received a report of medical supplies, including face masks, washing up between Magenta Beach and The Entrance in New South Wales. 

ANL said in its statement Wednesday, “As has been reported, contents of a few of these containers have subsequently washed up on beaches in the Sydney and Central Coast area. None of this cargo poses a risk to public health and we apologise for any disruption that has been caused.”

In addition to medical supplies, containers reportedly carried household appliances and building materials. The APL has a capacity of 5,510 twenty-foot equivalent units.

“ANL is committed to preserving the local environment and will undertake to remove debris in as timely a manner as possible,” it said. “As part of this undertaking, we have appointed a company with expertise in environmental cleanup, the Varley Group, which is commencing the cleanup operation [Wednesday].”

The AMSA said Wednesday it was continuing to provide drift modeling to the Maritime Authority of New South Wales, the lead agency responding to shoreline impacts from the incident.