271 unseaworthy vessels currently lie in an advanced state of decay in Queensland’s bays, rivers and creeks. That’s the latest count of vessels for which Maritime Safety Queensland needs to instigate removal action as part of the state government’s “War on Wrecks”.
Thankfully, Maritime Safety Queensland and the government’s War on Wrecks Taskforce are not ploughing a lone furrow in the fight to protect our waterways from the safety and pollution risks posed by vessels left to the elements by their owners.
Judging by the response to announcements about the war on wrecks, and by attendance at public consultation meetings held by the Taskforce in Port Douglas, Yeppoon and Gold Coast over the past three months, the Queensland public is also heavily engaged and keen to help.
Our mailbox WaronWrecks@msq.qld.gov.au and the Department of Transport and Main Roads’ Facebook page have received a steady flow of intelligence, photos and suggestions from concerned boaties and other members of the public, pointing out the locations of suspected derelict vessels, suggesting ways of reducing the problem in the future and offering assistance of various kinds.
That has been very gratifying and helpful.
All derelict, or potentially derelict vessels, reported to us are checked out by Maritime Safety Queensland officers. In many cases we had already listed the reported vessels for compliance action, but some have been added to our list of vessels for further investigation.
Every suggestion on how to reduce the problem in the future, made either directly to the Taskforce in consultation meetings or to Maritime Safety Queensland, will be considered by the Taskforce in preparing its report to Government. Those who have offered assistance in removing wrecks have been responded to. We thank all who have taken the time to contribute and comment.
So, where to from here?
Well, in terms of removing the vessels reported to us, while it may be disappointing to some, we can’t just immediately tow them away or lift them out of the water.
Once we’ve established that a vessel is unseaworthy and a risk of sinking and posing a navigational or pollution threat, we must make contact with its owner to ascertain if the owner is willing and financially capable of either rectifying the vessel's problems or removing it from the water themselves.
Owners have certain rights under the law, as well as responsibilities. We must allow appropriate time for the owner to respond and comply with any directions issued by us – and there can be many complexities in doing so – and for certain Court processes to take effect, before we can take control and manage the removal of wrecks ourselves.
When we reach the point at which we feel we can act, tenders must be offered and eventually contractors engaged to physically remove and dispose of the vessels, which of course adds more time to the process.
The time between identifying a derelict vessel and getting it removed from the water is therefore usually measured in months, not days or weeks. So, while we are doing our best to streamline processes to speed things up, as at early December, 2018 the war on wrecks had effected 65 removals.
That has left waterways such as the Brisbane River, Ross River, the Broadwater and Pumicestone Passage just that little bit cleaner and safer.
But if our war on wrecks can be likened to a horse race, these early successes are little more than the release from the starting gates of just a few contestants for what is a distance race, rather than a sprint. We have contracts in place to remove 53 more vessels, and compliance plans underway to nudge a further 90 towards the contract letting stage. Weather permitting, expect removals action to get into a steady trot over the summer months, before reaching a gallop heading into next autumn and winter.
Meanwhile, the Taskforce is finalising plans for further public consultation before preparing its report to Government in February.
Watch our Maritime Safety Queensland website for further details on consultation sessions if you are keen to attend. Alternatively, continue submitting your knowledge and suggestions to our mailbox – the more, the better as far as we are concerned.
The war on wrecks has a long way to go, but we are determined to stay the course.