In a landmark hearing last Friday the owner of a tanker that polluted the sea off Land’s End has been prosecuted using satellite image evidence.

It is the first time that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency has used such images as evidence in a hearing, anywhere in the country.

It has led to the tanker owner being ordered to pay £22,500 in fines and costs after pleading guilty to a breach of UK maritime pollution legislation at Truro’s Magistrates’ Court.

On February 25 last year a satellite operated by European Maritime Safety Agency detected a ship trailing a slick in the waters between Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly, and a report was made to the MCA. The ship was identified as the Singapore registered tanker Maersk Kiera. The slick was within 12 miles of land.

The vessel was contacted by Falmouth Coastguard to query whether they were carrying out tank cleaning operations as they had satellite imagery of oil traces in the track of the Maersk Kiera. The ship’s master confirmed that tank cleaning and associated discharge following a cargo of palm oil was being undertaken, but that they were complying with international requirements.

Under the Dangerous or Noxious Liquid Substances in Bulk Regulations 1996 discharge of palm oil slops is permissible subject to certain conditions. One of those conditions is that the discharge is more than 12 miles from the nearest land.

Communications between the operators of the Maersk Kiera and the MCA subsequently took place. Initial contact was made on May 11, 2012 with the owners Maersk which stated that the vessel had been cleaning tanks, but had stopped before the vessel was within 13.5 miles of the coast. However, the satellite imagery clearly showed a slick trailing behind the vessel when she was within 12 miles of land. Eventually a breach of UK pollution legislation was admitted by the ship’s owners.

Maersk Tankers Singapore Pte Limited, were fined £15,000 with a £120 victim surcharge and prosecution costs of £7,404.88 were awarded. John Richardson, chairman of the Bench said: “Regulations against discharge are there for a good reason.”

Captain Jeremy Smart, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: “This is the first time satellite imagery has been successfully used as primary evidence in a maritime pollution prosecution brought by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. We will use all means available to prosecute those carrying out illegal discharges within the UK Pollution Control Zone.”