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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 844

Senator MISSEN(10.26) —I wish to address the Senate on a matter which has become very topical but which has been pending, unfortunately, for a long time. It relates to the dangers to the Great Barrier Reef arising from the risk of accidents. As honourable senators will know, an accident occurred only yesterday. I think there is still on the reef the bulk carrier TNT Alltrans. It is high and dry on the reef off Gladstone. I do not make this speech just because of that; I have had for some time material which has led me to believe that there was great danger from the present position concerning particularly the fact that it is not compulsory in areas of the reef to have a pilot. Many ships are travelling up and down the reef unpiloted. This has for some time constituted a danger which the pilots have been drawing to the attention of the authorities and the Government.

Accidents such as the one I have mentioned are likely to recur. The reef is a great international feature and something for which Australia has responsibility as it is an item of world heritage. It is a most important feature of Australia. I intend in a couple of days to move a motion of which I have given the Senate notice in regard to certain other dangers to the reef and investigations which should be undertaken, but tonight I relate my remarks to the information I have received on the failure to have compulsory pilotage in this area. Pilotage is compulsory in most ports but outside those ports and in the very dangerous and intricate areas of the reef it is not necessary. Consequently many ships go there unpiloted. I have here a statement forwarded to me by Dr D. J. Grant, a spokesman for the pilots. It is a set of statistics and I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

98 Kenmore Road,Kenmore, Queensland 4069

30th July, 1984



Unpiloted Ship's Register-1983-1984

The following is a summary for this financial year. A more detailed report has been sent to the Secretaries and is also on file at Thursday Island.

Unpiloted transits of Torres Strait, North East Channel and Inner Route 240 Piloted transits as per Joint Secretaries Annual Statistics 1,204

Total known transits 1,444

Percentage of known unpiloted transits 16.62% Out of all known foreign flag transits

Percentage of known unpiloted transits 20.3

The 240 unpiloted transits break down according to flag:

Panama, 57; Dutch, 28; U.S.S.R., 25; German, 22; Singapore, 21; Japan, 17; Liberia, 7; Korea, 4; Denmark, 4; Philippines, 3; British, 3; Greek, 3; Sweden, 2; Australia, 2; China, 1; Hong Kong, 1; Italy, 1; Fiji, 1; Israel, 1; Tonga, 1; India, 1; Vanuatu, 1; Papua New Guinea, 1; unidentified, 43.

V.H.F. Communications-

Calls answered 110 Calls not answered 96 Not called 34

From a total of 206 calls 46.6% were not answered.


Total Known Unanswered

known unpiloted V.H.P.

transits transits calls

1978-79 1,463 144 (9.8%) 79 (60.3%) 1979-80 1,499 77 (5.1%) 28 (42.4%) 1981-82 1,531 231 (15.1%) 58 (47.5%) 1982-83 1,362 225 (16.5%) 53 (48.2%) 1983-84 1,444 240 (16.6%) 96 (46.6%)


The percentage of known unpiloted transits appears to be averaging about 16% over the last three years. It is significant to note that Panama with the largest number of observed unpiloted ships is not a signatory to the I.M.O. Convention for the Standards of Training and Certification of Watchkeepers (S.T.C.W. Convention).

At a Maritime Services Advisory Committee Meeting, August 1978, the Australian Chamber of Shipping signified inter alia their intention of strongly advising use of pilots in Torres Strait and the Inner Route, especially in ships with limited under keel clearance. This recommendation was promulgated at that time and more recently in November 1983, at the Parliamentary Works Committee hearing in Mackay, the Australian Chamber of Shipping stated their ongoing confirmation of this recommendation. With this in mind, recent observations of some unpiloted transits by vessels such as the Japanese Tanker ''Diana'' of 81,273 Tonnes and the Mobil Tanker ''Mobil Endurance'' and numerous loaded bulk carriers, for whom A.C.O.S. members are representatives, creates an enigma.

Pilots have reported instances where some agents and owners who are prominently associated with the A.C.O.S. have actively influenced masters to proceed unpiloted and the service can only abhor this action.

D. J. GRANT (Naval Spokesman)

Senator MISSEN —I want to draw the attention of the Senate to two or three features of these statistics. In the period 1983-84 there was a total of 240 unpiloted transits of the north-east channel and the eastern route of the Torres Strait. According to the records of the joint secretaries of the pilot organisation, there were 1,204 piloted transits, so 16.62 per cent of all the journeys known-there may have been others-were unpiloted. In previous years, the degree of unpiloted vessels, as indicated in the document I had incorporated, is very similar.

Senator Collard —This is from the Torres Strait Islands Service?

Senator MISSEN —Yes, most of my information comes from the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilot Service. Its records indicate that for VHF communications to ships 110 calls were answered, 96 calls were not answered and 34 were not called. From a total of 206 calls, 46.6 per cent were not answered-another serious concern of the pilots.

I propose to summarise briefly the complaints made and give some extracts from letters which pilots have written to the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilot Service in the last year.

The complaints of the pilots fall into various categories. Many make predictions of accidents and show that near misses and dangerous situations have arisen during journeys when they have been piloting ships and have come close to unpiloted vessels. Many unsafe vessels travel on this route. Some of them are described in graphic terms in the letters written by the pilots as unsafe and lacking in equipment and adding to the danger they are being navigated in this way. In many places the passage is dangerous with many turns and variations of route, which again adds to the particular danger in this area. Another complaint is the greed displayed by many of the shipowners who persuade the masters very often not to take pilots, even though the reef ought to be piloted, and they contribute some moneys so they will not incur the costs of pilots.

I propose to read from some of the extracts from these letters. I will not mention the names of the pilots, but the documents are available for the Minister to inspect. As they were making their complaints to the pilot service, I do not think I should mention the names of the particular pilots, only the dates and the occasions. Pilot A writes on 23 September 1984 about an occasion when he was piloting a vessel called the Marine Leo. He described the journey he took and then he said:

I then observed the lights of a ship approaching Hammond Rock light from the West and showing a deep drafting signal. As it was apparent that the two ships would pass on the ''Turn'' at Turtle Head, I was able to reduce speed and pull away to the North.

He later said:

Whilst there was no danger of a collision at any time, the Mobil Endeavour proceeded, as I expected, in the middle of the White sector of Turtle Head lead light, and it would have been very difficult to pass him in this position. It was fortunate that we were able to slow down at such short notice and it did leave me in a rather awkward position as I had a five knot tide setting me down on Nardana Shoal.

The second complaint of 22 March 1984 comes from a pilot who was piloting the Russian vessel, Stepan Artemenko. He referred to the fact that many Russian ships do not engage pilot assistance. He said:

. . . any Russian master who considered that his knowledge of the Inner Route was sufficient for him to perform his own pilotage could undergo an examination conducted by his company. After passing the examination, the company accepts the master as being suitably qualified and, thereafter, pays him 10 per cent of the pilotage fee for every passage through the Inner Route. It would seem, that in effect, Russian ''shipping companies'' are issuing their own form of pilotage exemption certificate. Captain Grushevsky also informed me that there was a similar arrangement for passage of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus in Turkish waters where, apparently, pilotage is also on a non-compulsory basis.

A third pilot complained to the navigational spokesman of the Pilot Service in a letter dated 30 August 1984. He referred to his misfortune to pilot MV Jasmine II, which he later described as 'a rust bucket'. The condition of the ship is another serious situation. He pointed out:

''Jasmine II'' was, in a phrase, a rust bucket looking for a place in which to have an accident and, it is probably superfluous to add, the proud flag of Panama fluttered from her stern. The glass in four of the nine wheelhouse windows had, at some time or other, been replaced by plastic sheets which had weathered to the extent of making them completely opaque. Forward visibility was, therefore, severely limited. Only one of two radar sets was operative.

He went on to advise of other conditions of this ship and in his conclusion said:

This ship was a prime example of the type with which every pilot is only too well acquainted. It is a sobering thought that such vessels, with all their shortcomings, could transit Barrier Reef waters without pilotage assistance. The existence of these ships makes a mockery of the STCW Convention and any other IMO recommendation. Many shipmasters have told me that most reputable maritime countries now have regulations whereby safety inspections are made of ships, particularly those under a flag of convenience, before a port clearance is issued. These checks cover officers' qualifications, charts and publications, navigational and engine room equipment, communications etc. It seems to be high time for Australia to follow this example. At present, it would appear that any ship, no matter how decrepit or how much of a potential hazard it represents, can enter or clear an Australian port without let or hindrance provided, of course, no specific complaint is lodged against it by one or more of the maritime unions.

That is a graphic expression of what is obviously not just a single instance, but one of many. Another pilot wrote on 22 April of last year of a near collision with a container vessel. He was then piloting the Japanese bulk carrier, MS Ocean Monarch, south bound on 16 April between Bow and Heath reefs. He stated that he observed this vessel displaying lights approaching. After describing its movements he went on to say:

Satisfying myself that vessel had not made a mistake in his alteration of course, I blew two blasts on the siren and altered appreciably to port as altering to starboard would have caused a collision and a possible grounding. We passed each other at about 1 1/2 cables distance at about 0633, observing in the dawn half light that the vessel was a USSR container vessel obviously unpiloted.

This incident has all the ingredients for a collision caused through a late alteration of port blatantly contravening the International Collision Regulations, no sound signal . . .

Yet another pilot made a complaint to the service, dated 30 October 1984. In this case he complained about the way in which some lines dispense with the service of a pilot. He stated:

On two occasions the Master received a telex from K.Line advising that they wished him to proceed via Palm passage to Japan but without Pilot. He advised that he did require a pilot. Their very swift reply was to offer him $500US to proceed unassisted by a pilot.

There is financial inducement for people to create further danger to the reef. Yet another pilot wrote on 24 June 1984-these complaints were all made in 1984-of the vessel MV Silver Star. He said:

Our vessel, the M.V. ''Silver Star'' . . . was westbound through the P.O.W. At about 2330 on the 12/6/84 the lights of an eastbound vessel were observed and I attempted to contact her by VHF. This went unanswered, as did my further calls.

By observation the approaching vessel was well north of the usual track to Goods Island and as it was apparent we would meet in the vicinity of Harrison Rock, I shaped to pass close north of the buoy, if required. At midnight when the vessels were one half a mile apart, the other ship came up on VHF. I told him my intentions and remonstrated on his failure to answer my earlier calls, to which the reply was . . . ''very sorry''. He also made no attempt to give me more sea room.

He finally said:

Whilst I had this situation under control, the conditions existed for a potentially dangerous situation. This was exacerbated by his refusal to answer my initial calls and again illustrates the need to stress on all Masters the importance of maintaining an efficient VHF watch in Reef waters.

I turn to the expressions which have been made by the responsible organisations. Captain T. J. Grant, the navigational spokesman, writing to the secretaries of the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilots Service, has a number of things to say in a letter of 13 February 1985, which of course was very recent. I will read just a few extracts from this letter. He said:

The Service is primarily concerned with the safe navigation of vessels within the reef and the adoption of adequate measures to protect both the safety of navigation and the Barrier Reef itself.

In November 1983, the Service lodged a submission regarding the Far Northern Section of the G.B.R.M.P., and the general views expressed therein remain unaltered.

Since that time, the Australian Government's Department of Transport has prepared draft submissions for I.M.O. recommended pilotage in certain areas of reef waters. It is believed that an approach is to be made to I.M.O. in 1985.

He then refers to Hydrographer's Passage, which I will refer to later, and to the fact that investigations are going on to determine the risk analysis of various areas. He refers to a number of the areas under the headings 'High Risk areas' and 'Medium Risk areas'. There are quite a number of them in both categories. In regard to Hydrographer's Passage, which of course is a fairly new passage opened up for shipping, he states:

No notations were made on the appropriate B.A. Chart, because the detail of the chart was considerably in error, and at that time, the Australian Chart Aus. 821 had not been published. Det Norske Veritas were also in the process of compiling a risk analysis of the passage.

* * *

Using similar parameters to those used in marking up the other charts for the inner route; Hydrographer's Passage would be a High Risk area from the pilot ground off Blossom Bank to the Southern extremity of Bugatti Reef, and a medium risk area from there to the Western edge of Stephens and Cole Reefs.

He then makes a general comment on the non-use of pilots by some vessels. He states:

The reasons for non-use of pilots by some vessels are varied and complex.

A large percentage of ships are not operated directly by their owners. They are frequently time chartered then subchartered for either a single voyage, several voyages or a fixed time. Whilst on charter, pilotage costs are usually to charterers account, and in the case of non-compulsory pilotage, there is frequent disputation on who will pay for pilotage; also the need for a pilot to be engaged.

One sees from these things that there is an economic reason why these risks are taken. He continues:

This situation in turn, leads to considerable pressure on ships masters to proceed unpiloted. The rationale behind this is that a master may lose his employment, if he insists on engaging a non-compulsory pilot. It is also a well known practice for some owners or charterers to offer some financial reward to a master to proceed unpiloted in non-compulsory areas.

I have already given one example of that. He then speaks of a conference which he had with Japanese owners in Sydney in September 1984:

The Japanese in recent years have declared compulsory pilotage zones in a number of areas of Japanese waters, apart from ports, such as Tokyo Bay, Kobe and Osaka Bay, Ise Wan and the Inland Sea. The Japanese shipping company representatives expressed the view that declared compulsory pilotage zones removed any doubt about the need for engaging a pilot, also who was responsible for payment, and finally any pressure on masters to proceed unpiloted.

I emphasise those statements. I believe that the Japanese are acting soundly here and we and our Government are acting unsoundly in not taking the same forthright attitude in Australia. I have seen the minutes of the meeting which was held by the pilots organisation with the Japanese on 6 September last year. In the discussions about compulsory pilotage this is said:

The Japanese representatives suggested that a declaration of compulsory pilotage could well remove any doubt about proceeding unpiloted and further remove any possibility of masters being subject to influence to proceed unpiloted. It appears that the Japanese did not place great concern on the legalities of this subject but more on the point that if pilotage was really considered essential then it should also be compulsory.

That is also the view of the pilots. Ideas on this subject have also been expressed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which is very concerned at the danger of exposure of the reef-not only of the blockage of the reef and passage through it, but also dangers of spillage of deleterious substances which go up and down with the tides and could destroy great quantities of the reef. Mr Graeme Kelleher, Chairman of the Marine Park Authority, had this to say when writing to Mr N. R. Rogers of the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilots Service on 15 August 1984:

As you are aware your concern regarding the potential hazard caused by unpiloted vessels in the Great Barrier Reef waters is widely shared. I understand that you have been involved in the development by the Department of Transport of the proposal to go to IMO regarding a recommendation on pilotage in Torres Strait and the Great Barrier Reef.

It appears that the recommendation if adopted by IMO would provide an increased level of navigational security in the Great Barrier Reef waters. It would cover the majority of cargo vessels and should cover cargoes which might be hazardous if spilled. A measure of risk would remain from unpiloted vessels which would by definition be generally small and carrying non-hazardous cargoes. The remaining risk would attach largely to the risk of collision between a piloted vessel and an unpiloted vessel and that risk exists in any event with the small craft such as fishing and tourist charter vessels which are working in the region.

There is a clear support and concern by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in this matter. The whole matter has been discussed by a committee of this Parliament. Indeed, the eleventh report of 1983 by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works was related to the provision of navigational aids for the newly opened Hydrographer's Passage. The Committee was very firm. Paragraph 68 of the report states:

Compulsory pilotage presently exists in Australian ports-for the protection of the port facilities as much as to protect the ships concerned. There is a similarity between the protection of port facilities and Hydrographers Passage, because in this instance the aim is to protect the Great Barrier Reef, rather than the ships concerned.

The Committee was concerned in that report with the Hydrographer's Passage and not with the overall situation. Paragraph 69 states:

A precedent exists in the international scene for compulsory pilotage. Canada has declared its Arctic waters to the north as a compulsory pilotage zone. Although evidence was given that the international shipping community was not supportive of this unilateral declaration, there have been no legal challenges to its validity.

The Committee then reported on the 1958 Convention on the High Seas and the fact that, if that were applicable, the Great Barrier Reef could be declared a special area. It deserves special protection measures. Paragraph 72 states:

The Committee therefore favours a system of compulsory pilotage in Hydrographers Passage, with a system of exemptions, on examination, for suitably experienced masters.

That certainly has been considered and recommended by the Committee of this Parliament in the instance of a new passage being set up. If this country has not yet adopted the United Nations Convention on the law of the sea, in which there is provision for special areas to be determined, that should have been done by now. In conclusion, I want briefly to mention that there has been correspondence between the Queensland Coast and Torres Strait Pilots Service and the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris). In a detailed letter written by the Pilots Service on 25 October 1984 the Pilots Service referred, among other things, to the report I have just read and indicated its support for it. It stated:

The report further indicated that if the matter is not resolved by the time the navigational aids are completed, the Committee would recommend that the Australian Government consider making a unilateral declaration for compulsory pilotage, subject to a favourable opinion being received from the Attorney-General's Department on the legality of such a course of action . . .

It refers to Canada's unilateral declaration of its Arctic areas and states:

This Service suggests that before an approach to I.M.O. is initiated--

that is for a declaration which is not binding-

it would be helpful if the Australian Government were to declare an unqualified recommendation on the use of pilots within their licensed area. This would add strength to the I.M.O. submission.

I will not read all the details of that letter. In reply the Minister says various things. I find his reply to be very unsatisfactory indeed. The Minister, in his reply to Mr Rogers on behalf of the Pilots Service on 28 November 1984, wrote:

The Government's commitment to the protection of the Reef is unequivocal.

He then speaks about navigational aids having been provided and a risk analysis study having been commissioned. He says that the Government is also seeking an International Maritime Organisation resolution recommending pilotage and the continuation of the previous Government's policies in zoning the Great Barrier Reef. He then refers to the Public Works Committee report concerning Hydrographers Passage. He then says:

Advice received from the Attorney-General's and Foreign Affairs Departments confirmed my Department's view that there was no provision for compulsory pilotage on the High Seas in the 1958 Geneva Convention and that the unilateral imposition of such a measure would be regarded most unfavourably by other governments. Australian Government policy remains committed to the observance of international law and to refraining from unilateral actions which would interfere with the long established principle of freedom of the High Seas. It is also recognised that to do otherwise would lower Australia's standing in international forums and invite retaliatory measures which could harm Australian interests.

One must remember what has been done by Canada and Japan, which have areas which they gravely need to protect. The Minister's response is very weak indeed. The Minister continues:

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has not yet been ratified, does open up the possibility that compulsory pilotage in special areas may eventually receive favourable consideration at IMO.

One asks why that has not proceeded, why we have not acted with urgency in respect of that. The Minister goes on to say:

Your suggestion that an unqualified recommendation on the use of pilots would assist Australia's proposal at IMO is noted. However, such a move could be interpreted by some countries as an attempt to pre-empt discussions on the issue and might prove counter-productive.

I put it that the Minister's response is disgracefully inadequate. The fear of upsetting one or two countries is not an adequate answer to this problem. I put it that the example we have had now of a collision has responded to all the fears which have been expressed for years by the pilots, by the Marine Park Authority and by other citizens and has shown that the Government's policy is a most unwise policy. I ask the Minister and the Government to be at least wise after the event and to introduce a unilateral declaration so that there is compulsory pilotage in order that we in this country are able to protect to the greatest possible degree the absolutely irreplaceable benefits and values of the Great Barrier Reef which are obviously now under risk and challenge.