Boxship captain charged over underwater cable damage off Western Australia

Maersk Surabaya (Photo: Flett)

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has charged the 59-year-old master of a civilian container vessel that allegedly damaged the Australia Singapore Cable off the West Australian coast in what is believed to be the first prosecution by the AFP for the alleged offence.

A section of the subsea communications cable in the Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone, approximately 10 kilometres offshore from City Beach, was disabled early on August 1, 2021, by the Liberian-flagged containership Maersk Surabaya.

Allegations that a passing vessel had damaged the cable, causing approximately AU$1.5 million (US$1.08 million) damage, were reported to the AFP on August 3.

An investigation by AFP officers in Western Australia and Victoria has resulted in the arrest of the 59-year-old Ukrainian national.

The man was the master of Maersk Surabaya, which police say had been anchored approximately 500 metres from the protection zone, and allegedly dragged its anchor through the area in high winds, snagging and damaging the 20-metre-deep cable.

The individual was charged on August 11 after AFP investigators seized ship logs during their search of the vessel after it berthed in Melbourne.

The man appeared by video-link in Melbourne Magistrates Court on August 11 for one count of engaging in negligent conduct as the master of a maritime vessel, which resulted in damage to the Australia Singapore Cable, contrary to section 37 of schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).

The offence carries a potential maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a AU$40,000 (US$28,933) fine. The man was granted bail with strict conditions and is currently under Covid hotel quarantine.

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