A Panama-based company faces millions in fines for allegedly spilling tonnes of oil near the Great Barrier Reef.

No ship claimed responsibility for the spill of about 15 tonnes of oil that washed up on beaches between Hinchinbrook Island (off the QLD coast) and the Palm Island area in July 2015, which cost close to $1.5 million to clean up.

Media reports say the location of the spill has been traced to Pakhoi Bank, and area inside a designated shipping lane in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The Townsville Magistrates Court has received allegations that the oil came from the ship Regina, which is owned by Globex Shipping.

Queensland Ports Minister Mark Bailey said a worldwide effort had helped narrow down the culprit.

“This is a very complex case. Seventeen ships could have been possibilities, we had an oil match against the samples of the beaches with seventeen ships who went to all parts of the globe,” he said.

“Every oil sample from every ship is unique, and so there's been a process of matching them up.”

Globex Shipping will face courts in August charged with discharge of oil into the sea.

The charge carries a maximum fine of $17 million.

Mr Bailey said the shipping industry must learn that polluters will be caught.

“If you do the wrong thing and pollute our beaches, and pollute our reef, we will track you down and prosecute you,” he said.

“I was outraged... I wanted us to make sure that we've made an example of the culprits because nobody reported this. That's the thing, nobody reported this as a problem, they get away with it — but not in Queensland”

If fines are laid, it is unclear how the government would enforce them, as many foreign states would not recognise them.

The Queensland Government has been urged to try to recover the clean-up costs through an insurance claim too.