This article has been updated since it was published to include a response from AMSA
THE Australian Maritime and Safety Authority (AMSA) has taken the extraordinary step of banning an Australian livestock vessel from entering any Australian port for two years, after it suffered hull damage in the Indian Ocean during a ballast voyage on return from Indonesia two months ago.
After sustaining damage to its hull, the reason for which is still not known, the MV Barkly Pearl was moved to the Port of Geraldton, where it remained while the vessel’s owners worked with authorities to develop an appropriate repair solution.
After spending almost two months docked alongside at Geraldton, on Thursday, January 7, the vessel was loaded onto a semi-submersible heavy load carrier for transportation to Indonesia, where it will be repaired within the next six weeks.
However, within hours of the ship being loaded for the journey, AMSA took the step of issuing the master and ship manager with a 24 month ban, which it described as “its most severe banning to date”.
The ban prevents the ship from entering or using an Australian port for two years.
In a media release announcing the decision, AMSA said the refusal of access notice was issued because the vessel’s owners and operators “were negligent in their maintenance of the vessel, put the lives of the seafarers on board at risk and posed an immediate threat to Australia’s marine environment”.
It is understood the vessel has been berthed at the owner’s expense at the Port of Geraldton since early November, which has protected the safety of the crew as plans to repair the vessel were developed.
It is also believed damage to the hull did not affect the ship’s oil or fuel tanks, allaying concerns about potential risk to the marine environment.
The vessel is owned by Nick Thorne of NTXLS Group, which owns the registered pre-export quarantine premises Cedar Park south of Darwin, and Cattle Line, which owns and operates two livestock carriers, the Barkly Pearl and the Diamantina.
While dealing with the news that the Barkly Pearl has been hit with an unprecedented two year ban two-year-ban while on its way to be repaired after suffering damage at sea two months ago, the company has concurrently faced a seperate, highly challenging predicament after three crew members from the Diamantina returned positive COVID tests following the vessel’s return to Darwin in late December (update on the Diamantina situation below).
When contacted by Beef Central this week Mr Thorne declined to comment, but said his company expects to provide a response in coming days.
In its public statement announcing the Barkly Pearl ban, AMSA General Manager Operations, Allan Schwartz, said the 24 month ban was a “significant decision” by AMSA.
“It’s the first time a vessel has been banned from Australian ports for this length of time and it will certainly affect the vessel’s commercial operations,” Mr Schwartz said.
“The Australian community expects that any vessel operating or travelling through our waters is seaworthy. Consequently, when vessels are found to be so poorly maintained, AMSA will not hesitate to use the suite of powers available to it,” he said.
“The owners and operators of the Barkly Pearl were negligent in their maintenance of the vessel, put the lives of the seafarers on board at risk and posed an immediate threat to Australia’s marine environment.
“As a result, AMSA has determined that the Barkly Pearl should be banned for two years.”
The extraordinary decision to ban the damaged vessel from operating out of Australia for two years comes as livestock export ships face increased scrutiny in the wake of the Gulf Livestock 1 tragedy, which sank with the loss of all crew and cattle on board during a storm while transporting cattle from New Zealand to China in September last year.
As acknowledged by AMSA the 24 month ban will severely impact the commercial operations of the Barkly Pearl in Australia.
The Barkly Pearl is a favoured vessel for exporters and importers in the Australia-Indonesia cattle trade, making regular return visits between the two countries, and its absence will leave a gap in the market.
Beef Central has made further inquiries to AMSA in relation to the justification for the heavy-handed two year ban on the Barkly Pearl.
UPDATE: In its response AMSA said the ban is the largest it has issued over the last seven years.
“It is a significant ban and a significant message to industry and operators of vessels, such as the Barkly Pearl,” the AMSA statement said.
“The Barkly Pearl was spotted with a significant hole in its side below the waterline, we had to send an aircraft out in order to confirm this. The ship had known about the hole for close to 10 days before we heard about it.
“AMSA has been very open with the shipping industry for a number of years with our message that as long as ships and companies do the right thing, we will help them. If people try to hide things from us and if they unreasonably put people’s lives at risk and unreasonably put the environment at risk, we will not tolerate that.
“That was what happened here, it was a significant issue and we know for a fact that some of the seafarers on board that ship were in fear of their safety. We don’t take this lightly, it was a proportionate response to the risk that the vessel posed.”
In the meantime it is hoped the Diamantina will be able to reload with cattle and resume its originally scheduled journey to Indonesia within coming days, after having being delayed at port in Darwin for more than two weeks following positive coronavirus tests among its crew.
The ship arrived in Darwin from Indonesia on Sunday, December 27.
No crew members were displaying symptoms upon arrival.
All crew were initially tested for COVID by nurses at the Port and returned negative tests.
Subsequent testing however revealed COVID anti-bodies in three crew members, none of whom had reported feeling unwell upon arrival.
Those three crew members were transported from the vessel to isolation in Royal Darwin Hospital, while another 11 crew members were transported to supervised quarantine at Howard Springs.
With all crew members returning negative tests and the 14 day isolation period now over, it is believed the vessel should be cleared to return to operations and reload with cattle in the next day or so.