A COAL ship that leaked an estimated 72,000 litres of heavy fuel oil into the Port of Newcastle three years ago has been fined $1.2 million after paying $1.7 million in clean-up costs.
The NSW Land and Environment Court heard that between 40 and 50 pelicans were "oiled" as a result of the discharge, with 32 going to Taronga Zoo for care and rehabilitation.
Oil ran from the southern arm of the Hunter River, where the ship was tied up, to the Stockton spit on the northern arm of the river.
While oil was still visible on parts of the shore five weeks after the spill, the court heard that a prompt clean-up by Newcastle Port Corporation minimised the impact and meant there was no permanent damage.
The $1.2 million fine was levied against the German owners of the Liberian-registered MV Magdalene, which tied up at the Kooragang No. 4 wharf operated by Port Waratah Coal Services on August 25, 2010.
The court heard that a 15-centimetre rust hole between two adjoining tanks allowed the fuel oil to leak into the ballast tank, which was being discharged.
No one on watch on the vessel noticed the leak, which was picked up by PWCS more than four hours after it began.
The court heard the maximum fines under the Marine Pollution Act 1987 were originally $250,000 for corporations and $50,000 for individuals but these were lifted to $10 million and $500,000 in 2002 after a spill in Sydney harbour.
Justice Terry Sheahan discounted a $1.8 million fine by one third, citing a guilty plea, co-operation, remorse and a pre-trial payment of $1.7 million for clean-up costs.
In relation to the master of the vessel, Justice Sheahan noted the prosecution was unable to find anything he could have done to avoid the spill. He found the charge proved but ordered the proceedings dismissed with no conviction recorded.