Australia: Changes in Australian Pollution Law - Charterers now strictly liable


Published: 29 February 2012

Up to now it has been settled law in Australia that strict liability for oil pollution is channelled to the master and owner of a vessel.  On 3 December 2011, however, the Australian Parliament passed amendments to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983extending the strict liability regime to bareboat, time or voyage charterers, who now face criminal penalties regardless of any fault on their part or on the part of the vessel owner or the master.

The amendments, which are now in force, also increase the penalties for oil pollution from A$275,000 to A$11 million for a corporation.

The new legislation is controversial, since time or voyage charterers are unlikely to have any degree of control over the day-to-day operations of a ship which may cause pollution.  The amendments have been driven by recent maritime pollution incidents in Australia, but the rationale behind them appears inconsistent with the aims and policy of MARPOL.

The new law makes it essential that all charterers operating in Australian waters review their risk management practices as well as their existing contractual and insurance arrangements.

For the text of the Act please see the following link: