The owners and operators of the foreign-flagged container vessel Med Taipei have agreed to pay $3.25m to the United States to resolve allegations that the 15 containers lost overboard in 2004 resulted in long-term damage to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), the Department of Justice and the Department of Commerce announced on July 25. The settlement in behalf of MBNMS, located off the coast of California, and the owners and operators of the vessel – All Oceans Transportation, Inc., Italia Marritema SpA and Yang Ming Transport Corporation – represents the largest damages awarded to date for damages to a national marine sanctuary.
In February 2004, 15 containers fell overboard from the Med Taipei when the vessel was traveling on rough seas from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The containers, 40x8x10 ft., contained a variety of cargo furniture, thousands of tires, several hundred thousand plastic items, miles of cyclone fencing, hospital beds, wheel chairs, recycled cardboard and clothing items. A U.S. Coast Guard report revealed the containers were inappropriately loaded on board the vessel – there were faulty welds on anchor points for the containers, as well as missing d-rings from the deck of the vessel.
In June 2004, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) discovered one container carrying car tires during a research project. The container was found by a remotely operated vehicle in 4,000 ft. of water, approximately 17 miles northwest of Pinos Point in outer Monterey Bay, Calif. MBARI took photographs of the container and the serial number was easily identified and traced back to the ship.
The potential impact of the lost containers on natural resources includes the crushing and smothering of benthic organisms, the introduction of foreign habitat structure and shifts in local ecology. In addition, there is likely to be an expanding benthic footprint over time as the containers degrade and collapse, spreading their contents along the ocean floor. There is potential for entrapment of marine species by the cyclone fencing, ingestion of plastic wrappers and bags as they are released from the containers over
time, as well as deposition of plastics and other oil-based products.
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has elected to use the settlement monies to undertake restoration projects in identified areas rather than to remove the remaining containers, whose locations are not known.