Australia: Domestic commercial vessel safety: new national system

Last Updated: 5 October 2016
Article by Caitlin Divani

In brief - Queensland's new national system allows for nation-wide consistency on marine safety

In February 2016, the Queensland Parliament's passing of two pieces of legislation introduced a new national system for the regulation of all domestic commercial vessels, including those non-commercial entities in Queensland, allowing nation-wide consistency on marine safety.

Manly Fast Ferry's engine fault alarm triggered by unintentional contact with emergency stop button

A recent incident involving a Manly Fast Ferry vessel is a reminder for crew members to take care when moving within the cramped confines of an engine room. Governed by the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 and Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW), marine safety incidents like these have called for changes to marine safety laws.

On 9 June 2016, the Manly Fast Ferry vessel Ocean Wave was travelling from Sydney to Manly Wharf with 13 passengers on board when it experienced an engine fault alarm. The alarm was triggered by the emergency stop button, activated as a result of a crew member unintentionally coming into contact with the button.

The crew's decision to attempt to dock with prevailing environmental conditions and reduced manoeuvrability, rather than immediately anchor, increased the safety risk of crew and persons on board and later reduced the crew's opportunity to explore other recovery options once the vessel was secure. (See Ferry Occurrence: Factual Statement, Ocean Wave Loss Of Control Manly Cove, NSW, The Office of Transport Safety Investigations, 12 August 2016, p. 3.)

The Manly Fast Ferry incident highlights the need for reasonable care to be taken when crew members are moving within the cramped confines of an engine room. Accordingly, when confronted with a loss of control incident, crew must take immediate action to secure the vessel before exploring recovery options, to ensure the safety of crew members and passengers are top priority. (Ibid., p.3.)

Marine safety national laws and work health and safety laws in place to prevent or mitigate marine accidents

However, laws are currently in place to prevent and mitigate such marine incidents from occurring.

The Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act (National Law Act) is a national framework for ensuring the safe operation of domestic commercial vessels like the Manly Fast Ferry and facilitating a safety culture that will prevent or mitigate marine incidents. Specifically, Part 3, Division 4 of the National Law Act stipulates that all reasonable care must be taken by a member of the crew for his or her own safety and the safety of persons who may be affected by a crew member's conduct.

The Work Health and Safety Act (NSW) also stipulates similar provisions. The Act provides for workers to, so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the health and safety of other workers and not put at risk the health and safety of other persons due to a worker's conduct.

Essentially, the law has shown to have a vested interest in ensuring the safety of those working on or persons affected by domestic commercial vessels. This is achieved through provisions requiring a standard of care and safety by owners and operators of domestic commercial vessels to ensure the prevention of marine incidents.

Marine Safety Amendment Bill transfers regulatory power over registration, licensing and some safety matters to the Commonwealth

Taking a step further towards marine safety, on 16 February 2016, two pieces of legislation were passed by the Queensland Parliament; the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Marine Safety Amendment Bill); and the Transport Operations (Marine Safety - Domestic Commercial Vessel National Law Application) Bill 2015 (National Law Application Bill).

Queensland's passing of the Marine Safety Amendment Bill ensures the seamless interaction between Commonwealth and Queensland legislation for the regulation of all domestic commercial vessels. The Bill is intended to implement the transfer of all regulatory power for all registration, licensing and certain safety-related matters pertaining to domestic commercial vessels within the jurisdictional limits of Queensland, to the Commonwealth, under the National Law Act.

National Law Application Bill sees national system for regulating all domestic commercial vessels

Alongside Queensland's Marine Safety Amendment Bill, a national system for regulating all domestic commercial vessels has also been introduced under the National Law Application Bill. The Bill seeks to regulate nationally all domestic commercial vessels, including those in Queensland that are currently beyond the regulatory power of the Commonwealth. These are ships that are owned by non-commercial entities and only operate on inland waters.

The National Law Application Act will ensure nationally consistent regulation and enforcement of safety matters relating to all domestic commercial vessels. Ultimately, it is expected that a more consistent and overarching law will limit the potential for marine accidents, such as the Manly Fast Ferry incident, from occurring due to reformed safety obligations of owners and operators.

Domestic commercial vessel owners and operators should ensure compliance with regulations

It is recommended that owners and operators of all domestic commercial vessels, specifically those in Queensland seek legal advice as to the new provisions and reformed obligations under both Bills to ensure that they are meeting safety standards.

Greg McCann
Transport and logistics
Colin Biggers & Paisley

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Caitlin Divani
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