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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 7214

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:52): This Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Oil Transfers) Bill 2011 amends the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 so as to give effect to the amendments to annex 1 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, adopted in July 2009. The new chapter 8 included in the annex deals with the prevention of pollution during transfer of oil cargo between oil tankers at sea. The International Maritime Organisation, of which Australia is a member and which oversees the relevant shipping conventions, is a United Nations agency established in 1948 and is responsible for the safety and security of shipping and for the prevention of pollution by ships.

The bill demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to protecting Australia's marine environment. Australia depends almost exclusively on shipping to move its exports and imports. Australia has the fifth largest shipping task in the world in terms of tonnes of cargo shipped and kilometres travelled. Our oceans do not only drive our economy; they are also home to over 30,000 plant and animal species. Australia has some of the most unique and diverse oceans in the world and it is important that we do whatever we can to protect them. From obsolete sea vessels to dangerous uranium and other toxic chemicals, our oceans have been a convenient dumping ground for mankind for too long. Industrial and household waste are commonly dumped into our oceans. The environmental damage caused is immeasurable, but what is out of sight is out of mind for many and, regrettably, serious damage has been done to many ocean areas.

Of course, not all ocean pollution is deliberate—accidents do occur. To date, one of the greatest threats to the marine environment has been oil spills. Since coming to office in 2007, the government has significantly improved the protection of Australia's marine environment with legislation regarding civil liability for bunker oil pollution damage; the Protection of the Sea (Shipping Levy) Amendment Regulations; the Protection of the Sea (Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Regulations; and the Protection of the Sea Legislation Amendment Bill 2010, which dealt with sulphur oxides.

This amendment bill will add another layer of protection for our marine environment. Under the traditional law of the sea, ships have the right of 'innocent passage' when transiting territorial and international waters. The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that passage is innocent as long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state. Consistent with this right, a system of global regulation has been implemented to ensure ships are subject to uniform pollution standards whether they are on the high seas, in territorial waters or in port. Generally, shipping is an environmentally friendly mode of transport. Ships are the least energy intensive of all modes of transport. Shipping currently contributes just four per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from the Australian freight transport sector but carries a quarter of domestic freight.

As an IMO member, Australia has adopted several international conventions, including the International Convention on the Control of Harmful and Anti-fouling Systems on Ships 2001; the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage 2001; the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage 1992; the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage 1992; the Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties 1969; the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships; the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Cooperation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances 2000; the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation 1990 and the protocol to the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution.

The intention of the amendments associated with this bill is to prevent marine pollution during ship-to-ship oil transfer operations between oil tankers. The new requirements apply to oil tankers of 150 gross tonnage and above. The bill will require such tankers involved in ship-to-ship oil transfer operations to have on board a ship-to-ship operations plan, and for transfers to be carried out in accordance with that plan. The decision to adopt international conventions was taken after extensive consultation with all parties involved, including the oil and shipping industries, state authorities and interested Commonwealth departments

The most common reason for transferring oil between oil tankers is where crude oil is being carried on a tanker that is too big to enter a port where an oil refinery is located. With the new super-size carriers, this is becoming a reasonably common occurrence. When this is the case, the oil is transferred to smaller tankers. This does not yet happen too often in Australian waters. The first and, to this point, only such transfer was successfully carried out off the New South Wales coast in March of this year. When it does happen, it is important that it is done in a responsible manner. The new previsions will apply from 1 April 2012 and substantial penalties may be applied where breaches occur. For example, failure to carry out a ship-to-ship operations plan risks a penalty of 500 penalty units, or $55,000. If the oil cargo transfer is not done in accordance with the ship's operations plan, the master of the subject oil tanker would risk a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units, or $22,000.

The amendments in this bill reflect international best practice as developed by International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd, an international not-for-profit organisation which assists in all aspects of preparing for and responding to spills from ships of oil, chemicals and other substances. Coastal states will be required to be notified in advance of any proposed transfers, which means that they will be able to be prepared to respond in case of any spills occurring during a transfer. The risk of oil spills and other risks associated with shipping increases as Australian ships continue to be replaced with foreign-flagged, substandard vessels crewed with poorly trained seamen. Australian registered shipping numbers have almost halved from 75 in 1996 to 39 in 2010. Australian ships have negligible international trade business and are increasingly losing domestic trade to foreign competition.

A quick scan of shipping accidents on the Australian coastline will expose the poor record of foreign-flagged ships when compared to Australian vessels. It should come as no surprise. Poorly maintained vessels with untrained or low-paid crews inevitably result in disaster.

Supporting an Australian shipping industry would not only reduce the risk of environmental damage but also be good for the Australian economy. Australia's growing resource export trade will mean more ships going to and from Australia. It makes good economic sense, therefore, to see more of those ships registered and crewed in Australia. That would also minimise the likelihood of our sea waters being polluted by accidents. It is clear that there is a very strong relationship between the good record of ships crewed by Australian crews, registered here in Australia, and the incidence of damage that conversely occurs when foreign flagged ships are being used.

It is also of concern that, given that we are likely to see more shipping trade in this country as a result of our resources export trade, foreign-flagged ships will have a clear effect on our economy. Many of these foreign-flagged ships, which are often registered in tax haven countries, are in effect denying the Australian economy of income that should properly be coming back to Australia. It is also of concern that many of these foreign-flagged ships are quite often exploiting their own crews. There have been a number of incidents in recent years in Australian waters of foreign crews being exploited by the masters of their ships.

These are matters that should be of concern to this parliament. On the one hand we have an opportunity to increase the shipping trade for Australia, we have an opportunity to increase employment for Australian seamen and we have an opportunity to ensure that we minimise the risks to the ocean waters around this country but, on the other hand, at the very same time we are seeing an increase in the number of foreign-owned ships carrying out the legitimate business of Australian commodities shipping.

The regulations in this bill quite properly need to be imposed, and I believe they will help minimise the risks associated with ship-to-ship oil transfers. However, I believe there is a bigger issue at stake here and that is to ensure that more of that ship-to-ship trade is managed by Australian shipping organisations. I commend the bill to the House.