A Titanic Task: Reviewing Maritime Safety

In this 100th remembrance year of the infamous sinking of the passenger ocean liner RMS Titanic comes a review of Australia’s century-old maritime safety legislation, the Navigation Act 1912. Also proposed now is the creation of a new national, sea safety regulator, an important agency considering the recent local ship losses which remind us of the continuing importance of safe operations at sea. The loss of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Italian coast, while carrying Australian passengers who were fortunately saved, serves to highlight these issues.

Review of the Navigation Act 1912
The Navigation Act 1912 is Australia’s primary legislation that regulates ship and seafarer safety, shipboard aspects of protection of the marine environment, and employment conditions for Australian seafarers. It provides for national port state control responsibilities and implements a range of international conventions covering matters such as the safety of life at sea; training and certification of seafarers; prevention of collisions at sea; watertight integrity and reserve buoyancy of ships; pollution prevention standards for ships; safety of containers; salvage; and regulations to determine gross and net tonnage of ships.

During its lifetime, the Navigation Act 1912 has been amended many times and so is a mix of old and modern concepts. On 5 June 2009, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, announced that the Government would rewrite the Navigation Act 1912. He said that the Navigation Act 1912 would be redrafted in plain language, to reflect contemporary conditions and practices, to do away with unnecessary and out-dated provisions and to provide certainty for industry.

An exposure draft of the Navigation Bill is ready for review by stakeholders along with a Discussion Paper that details the development of the Bill and the policy decisions made. These include incorporating lighthouse legislation, but excluding proposed shipping reforms. The Department of Infrastructure and Transport will receive comments by 16 March 2012.

National Maritime Safety Regulator
On 19 August 2011, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) on Commercial Vessel Safety Reform which provides for the establishment of a single national regulator for domestic vessel safety in Australia. The IGA formalized the agreement between all Australian governments to arrangements which will create a single national system. The agreement should see the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) become the national regulator from 1 January 2013 to develop, maintain, monitor and enforce national standards.

According to the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, the national maritime safety regulator reform is set to deliver the following potential benefits:
  • simplifying 50 different laws and regulations from eight different state and territory maritime authorities into a single national law;
  • applying clear and consistent nationally agreed standards across the country;
  • enabling seafarers and their vessels to work and move throughout the nation without barriers; and
  • providing a uniform, and contemporary, approach to safety requirements.
Work on drafting the Maritime Safety National Law Bill, and elements of the regulatory reform, are being progressed by the Department and AMSA in partnership with State and Territory governments. An exposure draft should be ready soon. Note too that a year ago on 7 January 2011, the Government released a new National Ports Strategy, as detailed in an earlier FlagPost in this series.

Australia’s Maritime Sector
In terms of tonnes of cargo shipped and kilometres travelled, Australia is the world's fifth largest shipping nation, although it has relatively few large ships registered here. According to a Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics paper, Australia’s maritime trade (by weight) grew by 22 per cent between 2000–01 and 2004–05, principally for bulk commodities. Presumably it has grown steadily since, driven by the resources boom. In 2004–05, Australia’s total maritime trade represented some 75.4 per cent by value and 99.9 per cent by weight and tonne-kilometres of the total exported and imported.

With around half a million Australians expected on cruise ships this year, our maritime safety regulation needs to be top class to meet demands of titanic proportions. The passenger cruise market in Australia used to be small and dominated by shipping services between Australia and islands in the South Pacific. In 2004–05, Australian Customs cleared just 221 187 international sea passengers. Demand has recently risen substantially, with The Australian reporting that Australian global cruise passenger numbers rose by 27 per cent during 2010, to 466,692, although many of these will be cruising from overseas locations.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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