Domestic commercial vessel regulation in Australia

Adam Brancher, Manager Standards Domestic Vessel Division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Adam Brancher, Manager Standards Domestic Vessel Division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Article by Adam Brancher

IIMS invited Adam Brancher, Manager Standards Domestic Vessel Division AMSA and IIMS Vice President, to give an overview and update on the changing face of maritime safety in Australia.

It’s been just over a year since the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), became the national regulator for domestic commercial vessels (DCV) in Australia following major legislative changes. A domestic commercial vessel in Australia is, in simple terms, a vessel used in connection with commercial, governmental or research activity, although there are exclusions.

Previously the states and territories had regulated under their own legislation, which resulted in there being difficulty in some cases when a seafarer or vessel moved between locations, and had to reapply for qualifications or for vessel survey requirements. The move to a single regulator was designed to allow the free movement of people, vessels and to for nationally agreed standards to be used consistently around the country, and when fully realised should have significant safety and economic benefits.

The National System provides a platform from which the effectiveness of marine safety regulation can be improved and the government’s deregulatory goals can be met. In November 2013, national Transport Ministers agreed that a ‘Streamlining Review’ should commence immediately, to ensure that the National System achieves significant safety and economic returns.

Potential streamlining opportunities, informed by a detailed risk analysis of the fleet, were identified in 13 key areas of the National System, including coverage, certification and survey. These concepts were described in consultation materials that were available on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) website, including:

• National System for Domestic Commercial Vessel Safety – Streamlining Concepts;
• The streamlining concepts at a glance; and
• Streamlining concepts long document.

From May to July 2014, public consultation occurred on the Streamlining Review. As part of the consultation, stakeholders were asked:

• what they thought of the streamlining concepts identified;
• whether they had identified inefficiencies in the system that should be reviewed;
• whether there was anything in the rules that applied to them that did not make sense, particularly in terms of achieving safety outcomes;
• if there were any major safety failings that needed to be addressed; and
• how they would like to see commercial vessel regulation change.

Face to face consultations were undertaken around Australia, including at 24 open consultation sessions attended by approximately 800 stakeholders, one round table discussion with key industry representatives and presentations at industry association meetings. In addition, 75 written submissions were received.

The Streamlining Review was overwhelmingly supported by industry. Stakeholders saw it as a unique opportunity to resolve concerns with how the National System had been implemented, and to remove unnecessary red tape in marine safety regulation generally.

A number of the streamlining concepts were strongly supported nationally. In particular, the conceptual changes to the ‘C’ operational area category, increased National System survey ‘cut-offs’, reduced periodic survey arrangements and the proposed changes to the design and construction and crew competency standards were welcomed.

Other streamlining concepts met a mixed response. The certification arrangements were particularly vexed, as stakeholders held divergent views on the value of the Certificate of Survey and the Certificate of Operation. The conceptual changes to the ‘non-survey’ category were seen as undermining safety by some and ‘not going far enough to remove red tape’ by others.

All of the streamlining concepts have been modified – to varying degrees – as a result of the consultation. Stakeholders suggested adjustments, alternative approaches and parallel or complementary reforms which will ensure that the reforms are meaningful. Additional, valuable streamlining reforms were also proposed by stakeholders, in particular the:

• need for a ‘C-Restricted’ category of operation;
• introduction of a new, entry level Certificate of Competency (‘Coxswain 3’); and
• removal of out-dated equipment survey obligations

AMSA is now developing these proposals and putting them to a gathering of surveyors, naval architects and industry experts to be held on the Gold Coast in the third week of October. The Domestic Vessel Division (DVD) , which is responsible for the technical standards that underpin the system, is working hard to prepare for the meeting with some 25 papers due to be presented there. The report on the consultation exercise will be posted very soon on the AMSA website and is well worth a read.

The other work that the Division has underway dovetails nicely with the streamlining work we are doing. Underway are significant reviews and revisions of some of the technical standards, the National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) that we work to here in Australia. Originally this work was done by a national committee but AMSA assumed that role when the committee dissolved at the start of the national system. The NSCV is an ‘outcomes based’ standard, rather than a prescriptive one. As an ‘outcomes based’ approach it needs a different mindset from surveyors and others more used to prescriptive requirements and a significant challenge we will face in the coming years is getting the skills and mindset right amongst the surveying profession so it is used appropriately. It’s likely that the standard will shift shape and as a result of analyses we have done become a more agile set of guidance material, called up simply under legislation.

In terms of the detailed work we are doing, members of the DVD team of surveyors, engineers and naval architects as well as one of the Class Societies have been working on a major review of the fire standard, C4 of the NSCV which is one of the more complex standards we have here. The outcome looks to be that it will remain as an option for designers and builders but that alternatives will be available to use, including ISO and some other national regulatory bodies developed standards.

The thrust towards the use of ISO and other international standards is a common theme to our work and one that particularly underpins the standard that light operations vessels will come under. It’s designed to stand alone and provide a simple regulatory setting that can be easily grasped and met by a non-technical person. It relies heavily on the Recreational Craft Directive and other established regulatory systems to determine if vessels and their operations are fit for purpose. This work is likely to significantly simplify regulation in this significant sector and we are hoping to have it concluded very early in the New Year. As with all of our work we are drawing heavily on the expertise available in the maritime sector and several IIMS members have been involved in the work.

The other major complex piece of work we are doing is work on the watertight and weathertight standard, C2, which is the last major piece of the NSCV to be developed. Again, this is the subject of major consultation and it’s well underway. The thrust, again, is to leverage international standards where it’s possible to do so and a table linking Australian DCV with the load line convention requirements underpins much of the work.

In addition to this, daily technical questions and issues of interpretation arise from around the country and internationally which our division answers. Where there are knotty ones we can call on expertise around the country in the form of a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) we have established. We are always looking for suitably qualified individuals to join this and will be happy to discuss membership with any members who were interested. More information may be found here. We have particularly strong links with New Zealand and work with them closely to ensure vessels and people can move backwards and forwards as safely easily as possible.

They have assisted greatly with our development of a proposed national surveyor accreditation scheme which we anticipate will come into being early in 2015. This has been a major focus over the past two years with significant input from AMSA staff and others in the industry including the various survey and naval architects associations here in Australia.

The National Regulator currently relies on the professional advice of ‘attested’ persons in determining whether a vessel meets the applicable safety, design, construction and equipment standards. The proposed accreditation scheme will formalise the relationship between the National Regulator and surveyors and naval architects through an amendment to the law. The proposed regulations will specify the entry pathway for current and future surveyors, and the specific categories of accreditation for which a surveyor may apply. The scheme is designed to allow new entrants to come into the Scheme and as skills develop upgrade to new areas of work.

It also ensures surveyors are committed to continuing professional development which may be achieved by membership of a professional technical association and specifies the required record keeping, insurance and other obligations a surveyor will need to meet under the scheme. It also provides guidance on processes and tools that a surveyor might
use to facilitate consistency.

The scheme identifies how surveyors can renew their accreditation and how they can exit the scheme. There is guidance on conflicts of interest and professional and ethical behaviour which is particularly important to maintain the integrity of the National System.

The surveyor accreditation scheme will provide AMSA, the National Regulator, a level of confidence in the abilities, processes and performance of attested surveyors and provide guidance, clarity and confidence to the individuals that work under its banner.

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