Legal experts on Thursday criticised the Greens proposal to change federal laws to prevent foreign ships leaving Australian ports during rough weather, labelling it as impractical.
Calls for change came from the Greens after an oil spill covered 60 kilometres of the Queensland coast, when a cargo ship accidently dumped an estimated 250 tonnes of oil into the water last week.
Dr Michael White QC from the University of Queensland, told Lawyers Weekly that the Australian ports have numerous ships entering and leaving and that the Green's suggestion was not practical.
"Who's going to stop [the ships]? There are already adequate powers to stop unseaworthy ships sailing and controlsand there are adequate powers for the harbourmaster to control the port," he said.
"It was an accident. The captain and crew took a seaworthy ship out of Newcastle, headed for Brisbane as planned, they ran into heavy weather which is the after math of Cyclone Hamish and unfortunately, in a heavy roll, the lashings broke and the containers broke away and in the end 31 went over one side or the other."
Dr Craig Forrest, also from the University of Queensland, was not sure whether the federal law could be changed but said the real legal implications were prosecution of the captain of the ship and compensation.
"Certainly for the master it can involve imprisonment, but, of course, for the owners it's going to be a fine of some sort but it's usually the owner of the vessel that they're going to target because it's the owner of the vessel that's going to be able to pay the fine for the offence that has been committed," he said.
"The other, perhaps more important, element to this is the compensation - you have obviously large amounts of money being spent on the clean-up operations and MSQ [Maritime Safety Queensland] are involved with that and all the other agencies that are spending money cleaning this up want compensation for that.
"But then you also have private individuals who want compensation - the tourist resorts, the tourist operators, the fishing industry itself, all are losing ... money and they are going to want compensation so that's probably going to become, in some ways, a more important legal ramification."
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, MSQ and the Australian Safety Bureau are currently undertaking investigations into the incident.
- Sarah Sharples