The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has awarded a $15 million contract to salvage 60 containers that fell from the YM Efficiency cargo ship while it was travelling past the Hunter coast last year.
Sydney-based marine services company Ardent Oceania Pty Ltd will use a combination of remotely operated underwater vehicles and cranes to undertake the complex operation from next March.
Of the 81 containers lost in the heavy seas, five have already been recovered. Another 16 remain missing.
The successful proposal includes the design and construction of a custom fabricated metal basket which will be used for lifting the containers, some of which are submerged in silt.
This basket will be deployed to the sea bed by a large ship. The containers will be placed into the basket then and lifted to the surface.
The basket will fully encapsulate the container so that no container or content debris can escape, mitigating any potential spill.
Pollution recovered from the ocean will be transported to a specially constructed waste reception facility in the Port of Newcastle.
The waste will be classified, stored, transported and disposed of according to NSW Environment Protection Authority guidelines.
The operaton is scheduled to take about a month, beginning in March when conditions are most favourable.
Since the initial clean up AMSA has attempted to engage with the Taiwanese owners of the YM Efficiency, Yang Ming, about their ongoing responsibility to remove the remaining containers from the seafloor.
Yang Ming and their insurers Britannia P&I have taken a position that they do not believe that the containers constitute pollution.
AMSA chief executive Mick Kinley said the effects from the plastic pollution were widespread and would potentially leave a terrible legacy if not cleaned up.
"The owners and operators of the YM Efficiency should be ashamed at the way they have treated the Newcastle and Port Stephens community," Mr Kinley said on Wednesday.
"These containers are filled with plastic and if they are not removed then they will continue to degrade, periodically releasing their contents to wash up on the Hunter Region's beautiful beaches.
"If not dealt with now in a controlled manner, this will be a pollution legacy that future generations will have to deal with for decades.