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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 09:27 GMT
Tanker firm fined for oil spill
Sydney oil spill
The oil spread across the harbour last August
The owners of an Italian tanker that spilled 300,000 litres of oil into Sydney Harbour last year will have to pay almost A$5.5m ($3.37m) in fines, costs and damages.

The New South Wales Land and Environment Court imposed a $510,000 ($312,000) fine on Fratelli D'Amato, the owner of the Laura D'Amato.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the company must also pay $4.5m ($2.76m) in clean-up costs and another $400,000 ($245,000) in legal fees.

Justice Robert Talbot dismissed the charges against the ship's master, Captain Bruno Furlan. Instead, he found the chief officer, Crescenzo Rosato, directly responsible and fined him $110,000 ($67,400).

Valves open

On 3 August last year, the tanker spewed 300,000 litres of light crude oil through open sea valves into the harbour, the city's worst spillage for 20 years.

Sydney oil clean up
Environmentalists want tankers banned from the harbour
The spill, which sent pungent fumes over the city, prompted a massive clean-up operation and badly affected wildlife in the area.

Although Justice Talbot found that no one had deliberately caused the disaster, it was not clear why the valves deep inside the hull were open.

Investigators found that the valves were shut when cargo was unloaded in China last May.

Affidavits presented to the court concluded that the valves were probably tampered with before the ship reached the United Arab Emirates port of Jebel Dhanna last July, possibly by a disgruntled crew member.

'Lax attitude'

Justice Talbot found that oil spewed into the harbour, unnoticed, for at least 25 minutes as the ship unloaded at the Shell Oil Terminal.

Sydney oil clean up
Booms contained much of the spill
The crew stopped the pumps when they noticed oil welling up to the surface.

Justice Talbot said the accident was due, in part, to the "lax attitude" of Mr Rosato and the pump operator, Ignazio Paterno, who did not follow orders to the letter.

Mr Rosato did not properly monitor the sea chests, instead relying on the reading of a pressure metre that was later found to be not working.

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See also:

05 Aug 99 | Asia-Pacific
Sydney may curb tankers after oil spill
12 Jul 99 | Americas
Alaska oil disaster 'imminent'
05 May 99 | Africa
Mobil pays out after oil spill
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