❝Registered owners of vessels can't just walk away from their vessels, especially if they are on public land.
— Transport and Main Roads
A TOTAL of 82 boats are currently estimated by Marine Safety Queensland to have either sunk, grounded or become lost in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.
Now as the Whitsunday clean-up beings to ramp up, boat owners are frantically worrying about what’s going to happen to them.
A Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said while they would offer assistance to boat owners in trouble, any stranded or wrecked boats would be owners’ responsibility.
“Registered owners of vessels can't just walk away from their vessels, especially if they are on public land or if they pose a pollution or navigation hazard,” a spokesperson said.
“We will work with them to remove vessels and look at options.
“We appreciate this could take some time but this does not excuse owners from their responsibilities.”
Maritime Safety Queensland is also calling for caution during the clean-up.
“While much debris has been washed out, there remains the need for caution on waterways, particularly with regard to keeping a low speed,” a spokesperson said.
”Many of our navigation aids have been destroyed.
“They can be fairly easily replaced but first we have to survey for underwater hazards and shifting channels.” PATRICK von Stieglitz just wants to go home but he can’t as his boat, the Tateyama Maru, is firmly aground at Gloucester Island in the Whitsundays.
A total of 15 court cases in five years has left Mr von Stieglitz and his wife struggling for money and without a means to properly salvage their 35.5m steel ship.
The problem centres around insurance, something Mr von Stieglitz has been heavily fined for on a number of occasions.
But he says it’s the legislation and insurance companies that are to blame.
Mr von Stieglitz bought the Tateyama Maru in 2004 for $100,000.
After having spent more than $600,000 on a refit, he was originally fined in 2012 for failing to have the correct marine pollution insurance – required for all vessels above 15m in Queensland according to the Marine Pollution Act.
“I spent six months trying to buy it in 2011/2012 (and I thought), ‘why can’t I buy this insurance policy?’,” Mr von Stieglitz said.
Mr von Stieglitz eventually found insurance with a company in Spain but after the vessel sustained damage on charter and without a survey he then couldn’t afford, the policy couldn’t be renewed.
Fast forward to 2017 and Mr von Stieglitz and his wife found themselves in a situation with a boat they couldn’t sell, insure or afford to keep.
Mr von Stieglitz subsequently appealed to Maritime Safety Queensland for help – fearing that if a cyclone hit the region his ship could become a danger to the public as well as a burden on himself.
He even tried to warn the authorities prior to Cyclone Debbie, sending a letter to the district court judge assigned to his case.
“I wrote and asked for help. I basically told him ‘I can’t handle this ship any more’,” he said.
And when Cyclone Debbie did hit the coast, Mr von Stieglitz’s worst fears were realised. The Tateyama Maru ran aground in Bona Bay and for a number of days he and his wife were left with nothing but the clothes they stood up in.
As Debbie’s damage began to be revealed, the ship came to the attention of Member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan, who posted pictures showing oil apparently leaking from the vessel on his Facebook page, citing an environmental disaster in the making.
“We just need to have the problem fixed. It's a rust bucket and it's going to be a significant environmental risk,” he said.
Mr Costigan and Mr von Stieglitz met last Thursday and “in the scheme of things we both have the same interests”, Mr von Stieglitz said.
“It has to be taken off the beach. It’s a f ****** disaster for everyone.”
There may however, be some light at the end of the tunnel with Maritime Safety Queensland inspecting the wreck. A Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said “no pollutants were escaping” and it was in a “stable condition”.
“Our marine officers had already removed the majority of pollution hazards including diesel fuel and oil from the vessel prior to its grounding,” the spokesperson said.
“We are working with other agencies including Parks and Wildlife and Queensland Police to ensure public safety.
“The owner is always responsible for vessel salvage and we are discussing options with him.”
Nonetheless Mr von Stieglitz said the government had to step up and stop letting insurance companies dictate how legislation worked.
“How can maritime safety say maritime safety is not their problem? The irony is if they’re not responsible who is?” he said.
“The insurance companies call the shots.”
BIG PROBLEM: The grounding of a 100ft boat at Gloucester Island could be an environmental disaster, MP Jason Costigan has said.
SHIPWRECKS: Sunrise over the maritime carnage after Cyclone Debbie had left the region.