The final plan for stabilising the Lady Cheryl on the seabed at Port Phillip Heads near Point Nepean has been formally approved following expert advice confirming this to be the best available course of action.
The vessel deteriorated rapidly in rough conditions at the Heads, despite several dive attempts to prepare the vessel for refloating, and further salvage attempts became impossible. The vessel will be stabilised in its current location under strict environmental and planning procedures.
Minister for Ports Denis Napthine and Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith thanked the agencies involved for their efforts in managing the environmental response and salvage operation, and the community for their patience.
"The incident involving Lady Cheryl was rightly treated as a marine emergency with significant multi-agency resources dedicated to the response," Dr Napthine said.
"Agencies worked around the clock to identify the risks associated with the incident and monitor areas that could have been potentially affected.
"Daily monitoring for pollution and wildlife impacts occurred throughout the operation and cleanup of the debris from the shoreline also occurred daily.
"Working on the salvage operation was a difficult task with an average window of only 90 minutes per day in low visibility due to the extremely rough conditions at the Heads. Ensuring the protection of the local environment without compromising the safety of the response team was the primary concern throughout the operation.
"Importantly, continuous monitoring has found there has been no adverse effect on the environment.
"We have now reached a point in operations where we can safely secure the vessel on the seabed by partially dismantling the vessel, removing any remaining buoyancy and opening sections of the vessel to fill it with sand to make it completely stable," Dr Napthine said.
The final plan has been agreed between the Department of Transport, Port of Melbourne Corporation, Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Department of Sustainability (DSE) and Transport Safety Victoria.
The plan will be implemented by the Port of Melbourne Corporation, as the body responsible for the wreck, under relevant legislation. The cost of this operation will be met by the vessel's owner and/or the insurers.
The plan is backed by thorough assessments through the salvage operation and further independent diving assessments that confirm the condition of the vessel and recommend stabilising the vessel in its current location.
All indications are that the fuel onboard Lady Cheryl was lost on impact and dispersed out of the Heads on the first night, where rough waters and weather agitated and evaporated the fuel.
As a contingency all works on site will be conducted within the presence of Oil Response Company of Australia (ORCA) to mitigate any potential leaks from residual fuels.