The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has issued a Marine Notice on emergency towage capability in an attempt to remind masters, owners and agents of ships of their responsibilities for reporting and resolving maritime incidents. AMSA may well seek to reclaim costs incurred in the event of an intervention by them in a maritime incident from the vessel’s owners.
The MERCOM is an AMSA officer responsible for coordinating and managing serious maritime incidents who is vested with powers under the Protection of the Sea (Powers of Intervention) Act 1981 (the Powers of Intervention Act).
The Powers of Intervention Act gives the MERCOM powers to intervene in a maritime casualty on the high seas in order to protect Australia’s coastline from a grave and imminent danger of pollution, and more general, within waters landward of the outer boundary of Australia’s exclusive economic zone when pollution has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur.
In each situation the MERCOM can take measures necessary to prevent or reduce the extent of pollution or other damage, including the issue of Directions. Intervention Directions can be given to all ships including recreational, fishing and trading vessels.
The Powers of Intervention Act also enables the MERCOM to designate a place or facility as a place of refuge.
National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies provides for a minimum level of emergency towage capability around Australia aimed at protecting the marine environment.
The Australian Government has implemented a three-tiered approach to the provision of emergency towage:
Level 1: a dedicated 82 tonne bollard pull emergency towage and response vessel, Coral Knight, provides emergency towage and first response capability in the northern Great Barrier Reef (north of Mourilyan) and Torres Strait (see the ETC regions map).
Level 2: suitable harbour towage vessels have been contracted by AMSA to be available in the event of a shipping incident in other regions of coast (see the ETC regions map).
Level 3: suitable ‘vessels of opportunity’ in the vicinity of a casualty (in port or at sea), which can be directed by the MERCOM to provide assistance.
The Level 2 emergency towage capability is available for use by the shipping industry and other parties under ordinary commercial arrangements, consistent with current practice for commercial provision of emergency towage services based on port or other industry availability.
Owners and masters of ships are encouraged to resolve shipping incidents on a commercial basis with a salvage or towage provider. Intervention Directions will be issued by the MERCOM where owners and masters of ships involved in maritime incidents are not taking timely actions consistent with Australia’s national interest.
Owners and masters of ships are reminded of their obligation to report marine incidents and accidents to AMSA at the earliest opportunity to ensure action can be considered and taken to prevent a potential casualty.
In accordance with IMO Resolution A.950(23) 2003 Australia has implemented a maritime assistance service. The nominated Australian point of contact is AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC Australia)
Should the shipowner delay taking action, including mobilising an emergency towage vessel when required, the MERCOM may direct Emergency Towage Vessels to provide actual assistance or to ‘stand-by’ when there is a sufficiently high risk of damage. The costs of such actions will be recovered from the shipowner.