Queensland oil spill fines skyrocket

Premier announces that penalties for oil spills will increase more than fivefold.

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Updated on 13 Apr 2010 13:13 GMT

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh [pictured] has announced that the north-eastern state will be increasing its penalties for oil spills by more than five times, with fines of up to $10 million.

Bligh said that cabinet had approved new laws following the recent fuel oil spill from the Chinese bulk carrier Shen Neng 1, which ran aground on Australia's Great Barrier Reef last week.

The maximum penalty will increase from $1.75 million to $10 million for corporations, whilst fines for individuals involved in future spills would rise from $350,000 to $500,000.

Bligh said the financial penalties were now the equal toughest in the country and reflected the State Government's commitment to protecting Queensland's marine environment.

She added that the penalties would also apply when oil spills in commonwealth waters drifted into Queensland waters and washed up on the state's coastline.

"When you consider the pristine and fragile environment of an icon like our Great Barrier Reef you need to understand that it is not only unique in Queensland and Australia, it is also an international World Heritage listed icon," Bligh said.

"We need to do everything in our power to ensure it remains in pristine condition and this increase in penalties will send a message to the thousands of ship crews who pass through Queensland waters that nothing but the greatest attention to safety and care will be tolerated." the Premier added.

"Ten million dollars is a lot of money for any company to have to hand over in the event of a marine mishap, and it would be in addition to any compensation a company would to pay for a clean-up.

"Those who profit from the transportation of goods through Queensland's coastal waters have a responsibility to be diligent and those who aren't will pay the price," Bligh said.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Rachel Nolan said amendments to the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act had also been agreed, which would remove the shipping company's right to withhold documentation in the event of a spill and allow a vessel to be detained if it is considered to be a 'likely pollution risk.'

"Shipping companies cannot be allowed to withhold important documents when the health of Queensland's oceans and wildlife are at risk," Nolan said.

"In the event of a spill, our Maritime Safety Queensland officials need access to as much information as possible, including records held by the shipping company about things like the vessel's maintenance and seaworthiness.

"These amendments mean shipping companies will no longer be able to frustrate our efforts by refusing to provide documents on the basis that the documents may be incriminating.

"If these tough new penalties don't deter rogue shipping operators from putting our seas at risk, we are giving Maritime Safety officers new powers to detain a vessel which poses a pollution risk in our waters and ensure appropriate action is taken to rectify the problem before the ship is allowed to operate again," Nolan added.