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THE Australian Federal Police has charged the 59-year-old master of the 8400-TEU containership Maersk Surabaya, after the ship allegedly dragged its anchor, damaging the Australia Singapore Cable, causing $1.5 million in damage.

A section of the subsea communications cable in the Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone, about 10 kilometres offshore from City Beach, was disabled on 1 August. On 3 August, allegations were made that a passing vessel had damaged the cable.

An investigation by AFP officers in WA and Victoria has resulted in the arrest of the Ukrainian national.

Police said Maersk Surabaya had been anchored about 500 metres from the protection zone and dragged its anchor through the area in high winds, snagging and damaging the 20-metre-deep cable.

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The master was charged last week (11 August 2021) after AFP investigators searched the vessel when it docked in Melbourne and seized ship logs.

The man appeared by video-link in Melbourne Magistrates Court on 11 August for “engaging in negligent conduct as the Master of a maritime vessel, which resulted in damage to the Australian Singapore Cable, contrary to section 37 of schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth)”.

The offence carries a potential maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a $40,000 fine, according to the AFP, which said it believes this is its first prosecution for the alleged offence.

The man was granted bail with strict conditions and is currently in COVID hotel quarantine.

AFP Detective Superintendent Graeme Marshall said damage to a subsea cable can have serious financial consequences for both the cable operator and for customers who experience reduced connectivity and data access.

“The protection zone is clearly marked on maritime charts and all vessel Masters should ensure vessels operate in a manner which does not interfere with critical communications infrastructure,” AFP Detective Superintendent Marshall said.

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