“No” management of safety on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

25 October 2012 - 08:11

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Australia’s independent accident investigation body, has today released its Report into safety issues surrounding pilotage on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Report has slammed the regulation of pilotage, saying that no organization involved in the pilotage, including the Regulator (the Australian Maritime Safety Authority – AMSA) or the pilot companies took responsibility for the management of safety. The result was that the responsibility fell to the individual pilots who were in competition with each other.

Each pilot therefore, developed his own safety management system and methodology of piloting and no or little information was shared among pilots.

In addition, training, fatigue management and check pilotages were all compromised. The pilotage providers, who effectively employed the pilots acted as nothing more than booking clerks, made handsome profits and so did the shipowners who the providers romanced. They all profited from the pilot who carried all the risk and suffered treatment that would ordinarily be unacceptable in any Australian workplace.

President of the Australasian Marine Pilots Institute (AMPI), Peter Liley said it was appalling that in a country surrounded by ocean and so dependent on maritime trade for its very survival, there was such scant attention to maritime safety.

This was especially so in the Great Barrier Reef where competition in pilotage had rendered the pilotage service to a poorly managed and immoral national embarrassment.

It was well below par when compared to the excellent quality of service in Australia’s ports.

“There was no excuse for it,” said Liley.

When the competitive model was established in 1993, those in support of it were naturally those who were profiteering by exploiting the hole in safety regulation.

Lives have been lost and too many accidents have occurred, yet the defenders of the competitive pilotage all put profit before safety and were very quick to criticize anyone who tried to expose the reality of what was going on.

Liley said that Australian pilots have been challenging successive federal governments and bureaucracies since 1993, but only with incremental success. “Enough of phony reviews and reports is enough. There have been too many, each deliberately avoiding the real safety concerns. I congratulate Graham Peachey [AMSA’s CEO] for having the courage to throw his organization open to external independent scrutiny. His efforts to reform what has been a national shame for Australia’s pilots are to be applauded.” AMPI will make itself available to work with AMSA to ensure that pilotage on the Great Barrier Reef is lifted to the level of port pilotage. Our efforts over almost20 years have now been vindicated. The truth about competition has now been made public – all it does is line pockets of the few while putting at risk the many.

Competition in pilotage was introduced at the time when competition policy became law in Australia.

The bureaucrats and politicians could not get their head around the dangers to which they were exposing Australia’s public, the Great Barrier Reef and shipping.

“They have all thankfully moved on, “said Liley. “We are now on the verge of seeing some common sense emerging.” “Anyone who contemplates competition in pilotage is playing with fire and such ignorance of pilotage realities should be exposed at the earliest opportunity.”

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