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Maximum fines levied for Environmental Damages in Protected Reef Grounding

Maximum fines levied for Environmental Damages in Protected Reef Grounding

In the early hours of August 19, 2021, the Maldives woke to the news of a large bulk carrier grounded on the protected reef of Kaafu Rasfari. Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were immediately dispatched to the 623 feet cargo bulker, later identified as the Navios Amaryllis, to assess and contain any further crises. The 58,700 dwt ship was en route to South Africa from Tuticorin, India, via innocent passage, and was carrying 19 Philippine crewmen, who were all safely evacuated. 

Prior to the grounding, the Rasfari Reef was a popular tourist attraction and a protected marine area of the Maldives with an extensive outer reef. Rasfari reef contained interesting typography with colourful terrains of coral ridges and sandy nooks. The reef was home to grey reef sharks, schools of big-eye trevally, great barracuda and eagle rays.

The EPA sounded alarms as the popular tourist dive spot retained more damage as the ship remained firmly wedged and leaned further into the reef. The immediate response by the MNDF was to safely contain the 1,200 tons of low sulfur fuel oil (IFO) and low sulfur marine gas oil before they leaked into the sea, which would have caused unimaginable damages. The ship had reportedly run adrift after her engine had shut down due to high temperature, and remained grounded on the reef as salvage vessels were dispatched from Sri Lanka. She was finally refloated with assistance from Tsavliris Salvage ten days after the grounding. 

Navios Amaryllis was detained by the Maldivian authorities awaiting the full environmental assessment report, with authorities predicting a hefty fine for damages as indicated by initial assessment via drone imagery while the ship was still grounded. The Maldivian authorities (Deputy Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Hamad Abdul Ghanee) pointed to negligence by the captain stating that the engine issues were not reported to the coastal state before the grounding. The captain had also not tried to anchor the ship nor requested help from Maldivian authorities. 

The EPA reported that 8867-meter squares of the reef received critical damage in terms of destruction of marine life and the structure of the reef due to the grounding of the cargo bulker. They estimated that one hectare of the reef was significantly damaged due to the grounding, translating to MVR 900 million of damages. 

The shipowners of the bulker were fined MVR 100 million, the maximum amount sanctioned by the Environmental Protection and Preservation Act of Maldives (Act No: 4/93). While this figure was the maximum fine applicable under the Act, the EPA explored options with the Attorney General’s Office to seek MVR 893 million as compensation. The owners of Navios Amaryllis appealed to the Maldives Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, to reduce the fine, but the decision from EPA was upheld due to the significance of the damages, and the resulting incoming loss from the destruction of the well-loved tourist spot.

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Following lengthy negotiations, the vessel was released in December 2019, almost six months after the grounding, upon receiving the fine in full and an added technical assistance agreement. This was the largest fine the Maldives has levied due to environmental damages, with the final figure at USD 10 million (MVR 154 million).

Author: Areeba

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