Container debris from the YM Efficiency has dispersed as far as Sydney and Brisbane, new tracking data suggests.
Only two of the 81 containers lost overboard off 30 kilometres southeast of Newcastle on June 1 have been found to date.
More than 942 cubic metres of debris has already been collected between Stockton Beach and Coffs Harbour.
Yoga mats made up the latest load of debris to wash ashore at Port Stephens.
Researchers from the University of NSW and the Jerusalem College of Technology have created an ocean debris tracking and predicting model which offers new insights into debris dispersion.
“According to our simulations some debris may be still near Port Stephens, while other debris are moving away from the coast following currents, in particular following the eddies of the East Australian Current,” UNSW research project team leader Dr Isabel Jalón Rojas said.
“These offshore debris may be brought back to the coastal area further north by the same eddy in next few days.”
Dr Jalón Rojas said the project’s initial results showed the model had been able to consistently predict the fate of the debris and the beaching patterns with the reported sightings of the container cargo materials.
The next steps for the research team is to generate a 3D model, allowing them to track not only different debris types floating on the surface of the ocean, but debris that moves vertically below the surface.
“The 3D model will consider more complex biophysical processes involved in the transport of marine debris as the nature of the debris will impact its dispersion patterns. For example, the car parts and nappies that toppled from the cargo ship last month are moving at a different pace,” Dr Rojas.
While the current model utilises Bluelink – CSIRO’s forecasting system aimed at the oceans around Australia – it can incorporate other region’s systems, which could assist with incidents across the globe.
Research team member Professor Xiao Hua Wang said the ability to predict debris dispersion could help minimise the impact of debris spills.
“The predictive capabilities of this model could enable more effective clean-up efforts of debris spill out at sea, as well as minimise the risk of other vessels colliding with debris,” Professor Wang said.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has confirmed that the ship's insurers will provide a hydrographic survey vessel to conduct a five-day subsea search search.
The initial search will focus on the high priority areas around where the containers were lost, and where modelling indicates that most of them are likely to be located.
The vessel will conduct daily surveys of the area, returning to Newcastle each night. It will take approximately a fortnight to process and analyse the survey data and provide quality safety advice with associated maps and locations.
As the process to unload the remaining damaged containers from the YM Efficiency has progressed it has been discovered that fewer containers were lost than initially reported.
The total number of containers lost has been revised down from 83 containers to 81, this leaves 79 containers still unaccounted for.
Community members are also encouraged to continue reporting debris on 13 12 36, selecting option two. For further information visit www.rms.nsw.gov.au/containerincident
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