WASHINGTON , D.C. – The owners and operators of the foreign-flagged container vessel Med Taipei have agreed to pay $3.25 million to the United States to resolve allegations that the 15 containers lost overboard in 2004 resulted in long-term damage to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce announced today. The settlement in behalf of MBNMS, located off the coast of California, and the owners and operators of the vessel – All Oceans Transportation, Inc., Italia Marritema SpA and Yang Ming Transport Corporation – represents the largest damages awarded to date for damages to a national marine sanctuary.
In February 2004, 15 containers fell overboard from the Med Taipei when the vessel was traveling on rough seas from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The containers, 40 feet long by 8 feet wide by10 feet tall, contained a variety of cargo furniture, thousands of tires, several hundred thousand plastic items, miles of cyclone fencing, hospital beds, wheel chairs, recycled cardboard and clothing items. A U.S. Coast Guard report revealed the containers were inappropriately loaded on board the vessel – there were faulty welds on anchor points for the containers, as well as missing d-rings from the deck of the vessel.
“The funds provided as a result of today's settlement will be used to restore habitats within the national marine sanctuary, an area of high biological productivity and diversity,” said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These alternative restoration projects will help mitigate some of the anticipated resource injuries.”
“It is important for shipping companies to execute due diligence when carrying cargo through national marine sanctuaries, as they will be expected to correct any damages that occur from their operations,” said William Douros, Acting West Coast Regional Superintendent for the National Marine Sanctuary Program. “It is also important that any lost cargo is reported immediately.”
In June 2004, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) discovered one container carrying car tires during a research project. The container was found by a remotely operated vehicle in 4,000 feet of water, approximately 17 miles northwest of Pinos Point in outer Monterey Bay, Calif. MBARI took photographs of the container and the serial number was easily identified and traced back to the ship.
The potential impact of the lost containers on natural resources includes the crushing and smothering of benthic organisms, the introduction of foreign habitat structure and shifts in local ecology. In addition, there is likely to be an expanding benthic footprint over time as the containers degrade and collapse, spreading their contents along the ocean floor. There is potential for entrapment of marine species by the cyclone fencing, ingestion of plastic wrappers and bags as they are released from the containers over time, as well as deposition of plastics and other oil-based products.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has elected to use the settlement monies to undertake restoration projects in identified areas rather than to remove the remaining containers, whose locations are not known.
The proposed consent decree outlining the settlement was lodged in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today. It is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decree will be available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.
The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.