IN COURT: Edwin Rajah, Paul Ruben Cacares Lopez and barrister Michael Woodford outside the Gladstone Courthouse. Photo: Sam Reynolds
IN COURT: Edwin Rajah, Paul Ruben Cacares Lopez and barrister Michael Woodford outside the Gladstone Courthouse. Photo: Sam Reynolds

Master fined $10k for breaching reef zone

A SHIP carrying 5700 tonnes of ammonia entered prohibited Great Barrier Reef marine parklands because the master couldn’t see the exclusion line a court was told.

Paul Ruben Cacares Lopez pleaded guilty in Gladstone Magistrates Court on Wednesday to navigating a 119m-long ship into the Great Barrier Reef National Park zone without permission.

The court heard Lopez was master of the Wincanton on February 16 when the ship exited the shipping area and entered the marine parklands off the coast of Agnes Water on route from Newcastle to Gladstone.

Lopez was contacted by a vessel traffic services officer by radio who told him he was going outside the designated shipping area.

Lopez said he would adjust the vessel and return to the designated shipping area.

The officer contacted Lopez again and said the vessel was still moving outside the designated shipping area and was in the Great Barrier Reef marine park and penalties may apply.

Lopez confirmed he had changed direction and was returning to the designated shipping area.

The ship was carrying 5700 tonnes of ammonia and travelled 233m into the prohibited zone for four-and-a-half minutes.

Lopez told authorities he changed the course of his ship to keep a safe distance from another vessel at the next waypoint and “accidentally” entered the exclusion zone.

Defence lawyer barrister Michael Woodford argued the ship was only in the exclusion zone for four-and-a-half minutes and two of those minutes were spent turning the ship.

Mr Woodford said his client – a Peru national, 37 – was made aware by a third officer that a ship north of them heading south would pass a waypoint closer than the recommended safe distance of three nautical miles.

He said Lopez didn’t see the exclusion map line because it was set to grey in colour and was difficult to see at night.

Mr Woodford said as soon as Lopez was made aware of the error he changed the route of the vessel.

He said in Lopez’s 15-year shipping career with employer TransGas this was his first incident.

Mr Woodford said Lopez had completed the voyage between Gladstone and Newcastle 10 times since beginning his job as master in 2019.

He said his client was regretful and remorseful for his offence.

Lopez was fined $10,000 and a conviction was recorded.