Tourism operator cops $20k fine for ‘misunderstanding’
A GREAT Barrier Reef tourism operator has been fined $20,000 for illegally taking tourists to Lady Musgrave Island while its permit was suspended over unpaid fees.
1770 Marina Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in Gladstone Magistrates Court on Wednesday to two counts of engaging in conduct in a zone that requires permission.
No one from the company was required to attend court, however it was represented by defence lawyer Ryan Mitchell.
Commonwealth prosecutor Chris Moore told the court the company's offending occurred after its permit to operate commercially within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was suspended.
The company operates 1770 Reef, a tourism venture that takes passengers from Seventeen Seventy to Lady Musgrave Island.
To operate the company requires a permit from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
Mr Moore told the court 1770 Marina was notified several times prior to April 11, 2018 that it owed about $14,000 to GBRMPA.
The department notified the company its permit to operate had been suspended and 1770 Marina would not be able to operate on the reef until the fees had been paid and the permit reinstated.
Mr Moore told the court despite the suspension the company "continued to take paying customers to the reef".
He said between April 11 to April 17, the company illegally took the vessel into the area four times.
Mr Moore said the offending was witnessed by members of GBRMPA and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
The court was told the vessel was intercepted on April 16 and the manager said he had paid the fees.
The department received payment confirmation the following Monday.
Mr Mitchell said the company was facing financial difficulty which led to its failure to pay the department.
He said the company was under a "misunderstanding" that it could operate under another permit.
"They weren't aware of the obligations … hence the plea of guilty," Mr Mitchell said.
"There is nothing more that can be said. They concede the permits were suspended but have otherwise been compliant.
"They understand the marine park needs to be protected."
Mr Mitchell reiterated 1770 Marina was not operating dangerously on the reef.
"They just failed to make payments," he said.
Acting Magistrate Mark Morrow said as a commercial operator the company needed to understand compliance with the law.
"The department relies on that money for upkeep of the marine park," Mr Morrow said.
"The permit was suspended and they continued to operate … it was a significant amount of money due."
Mr Morrow fined 1770 Marina $20,000 and ordered the company to pay an extra $99.55 in court fees.