Queensland taskforce sees a long haul in war on wrecks

Maritime Safety Queensland will continue working to rid Queensland of unsafe and unsightly wrecks after the Minister for Transport and Main Roads gave the green light to explore recommendations made in an interim report to the state government by the War on Wrecks Taskforce.

The taskforce identified eleven recommended priorities for further consideration in its interim report, prepared after consultation throughout the state. The report emphasised the need to adopt long-term thinking and strategies to reduce the number of vessels abandoned in our waters.

A copy of the report can be found and downloaded by clicking on the link provided on our Maritime Safety Queensland website here

After considering the report, the Minister approved that Maritime Safety Queensland undertake further analysis, drawing on expertise from an appointed taskforce, to determine whether the report’s recommendations can be sustainably implemented.

As well as consulting with Queenslanders across the state, the taskforce researched approaches to dealing with the problem in other jurisdictions before making its recommendations.

It found the reasons for vessels being abandoned by their owners were complex and not easy to resolve.

All of the interim report's recommendations are designed to tackle one or more of the root causes identified by the taskforce. Briefly, these root causes are:

Recreational boat sales are under-regulated

Boat sales are not regulated in the same fashion as, for instance, motor vehicles. This can leave boat buyers vulnerable to buying a sub-standard product, one that has few consumer protections, or one that does not suit their level of expertise or budget. Eventually, this can lead to owners abandoning their craft.

There is no ongoing inspection regime for recreational boats

Recreational boats have traditionally received less regulatory attention and inspections than commercial vessels, which regulators have considered to  present the greater risks. A more proactive regime of inspections for the recreational fleet might help identify vessels at risk of becoming unseaworthy at an earlier juncture. This would generally enable preventative measures to be taken by owners before it becomes too economically prohibitive to do so.

Queensland's market-driven insurance model requiring pollution insurance for large vessels does not meet the policy intent

Presently, vessels over 15 metres in length must hold an insurance policy sufficient to cover the costs of cleaning up the discharge of pollutants, and for removal of a wreck.  This regulatory measure was introduced in 2006 (following an earlier and similar regulation for ships over 35 metres in length) to protect the state government and Queensland taxpayers from having to fund the costs of removing abandoned vessels.

However, owners of vessels that have become unseaworthy experience great difficulty in obtaining insurance.  This means the regulation is struggling to have the desired effect and alternative means of funding wreck removals and pollution clean-up must be considered.

A lack of programs around owner, corporate social responsibility or extended producer responsibility for making vessel construction materials more recyclable, and the maintenance, seaworthiness and eventual disposal of vessels

Currently, the only person expected to contribute to the cost of disposing of a vessel is its  last owner.  Since vessels by the end of their lives are low-value purchases, the last owner is often the one least able to afford the often-considerable costs of doing so. Abandonment then becomes the owner's only economically viable option. There is merit in exploring innovative solutions to change this value equation.

A lack of affordable, subsidised disposal options

Depending on its location, size and condition, disposing of a vessel is likely to be difficult and expensive. Currently few vessels have much, if any, scrap value to compensate owners for this, so the expense of disposal can greatly exceed the vessel's value. This incentivises owners to simply walk away, so ways to streamline and improve vessel disposal options should be explored.

The above is a very brief summary of the taskforce’s findings about why so many vessels are abandoned. For a more comprehensive look at them, and the recommended solutions, we commend the interim report to you.

Sadly, there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will make the problem go away quickly. While Maritime Safety Queensland continues to remove as many wrecks as we can (274 had been removed  by us and our partner agencies as at 31 January 2020 using our War on Wrecks funding), the causal factors identified by the taskforce must be tackled to prevent our current wrecks simply being replaced by more, as Queensland’s fleet of over 275,000 vessels is decommissioned at a rate of almost 7% per annum.

Keeping our waters free of wrecks and abandoned vessels will require innovation and cooperation by all levels of government, industry and the boating public over many years to explore and bring to fruition the best options for improvement.

We will consult extensively with the maritime community, other stakeholders and across government as we develop those options.

– Maritime Safety Queensland
Jeanneau SF30 OD
JPK August 2023
JPK August 2023