Chris Ayres tackles the controversial issue of compulsory pollution insurance for boats over 15m in Queensland. If my boat is over 15m, do I have to take out special pollution insurance before visiting Queensland?
A reader from Darwin, Bill Shorter, raised this very important issue with regard to the provisions of Section 67A of the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995 in the March issue of CH. This provision requires owners of all vessels of 15m length visiting Queensland to take out compulsory marine insurance to cover accidental pollution or the abandonment of the vessel as a wreck. The regulations to the Act provide for an exemption but, as Mr Shorter points out, the requirements of satisfying the conditions are complex and expensive. The regulations run to four pages and the legislation less than a page.
The origins of the provision lie in international maritime pollution and environmental conventions. As a signatory to these conventions, Australia is required to introduce the legal intent of these conventions into domestic legislation. The process whereby this is done is complex, but basically the Federal Government signs the treaty, it is incorporated into federal law and then the states make arrangements to incorporate into state law.
Because of the Barrier Reef and other internationally protected areas, Queensland is obliged to introduce laws to comply with international conventions. However, once again the lazy drafting by Queensland legislators is evident, with a very literal incorporation of the rules being applied. The intent of the conventions applies to commercial shipping. Pleasure craft were never the core intent. I know of no EC country, for example, that has such provisions applying to pleasure craft. Hence few European insurance companies offer specific anti-pollution cover.
I wrote to the minister, John Mickel, raising the concerns expressed by Mr Bell. I received no reply. But basically, Section 67A is pretty clear – all vessels over 15m – commercial, charter and pleasure operating in Queensland waters must have insurance cover prescribed under the law or face a penalty of 850 penalty units at $75 per unit – $63,750! Of course, the provision might possible breach the constitution as discriminating between citizens from other parts of the commonwealth. The court would have to determine this. Nevertheless, the penalties are draconian and are quite a disincentive for visiting Queensland, even before the brusque handling of Customs operating in Queensland waters and the sometimes officious behavior of Queensland Fisheries officers is considered.
The good news is I wrote to several insurance companies and all include coverage for marine pollution to satisfy the legislation under their comprehensive insurance policies. Readers will recall I strongly support all cruising yachtspeople comprehensively insure their yachts. Examples of firms offering cover include:
Trident Marine includes the cover by way of endorsement on their policies – there is no charge. New wording in their policies will include cover automatically.
Club Marine includes up to $250,000 for accidental discharge of specified pollutants as well as fines, punitive, aggravated or exemplary up to the specified amount. They also cover salvage charges.
Nautilus Marine provides cover to meet the requirements of QTOMPA (Queensland Transport Operations Marine Pollution Act) under their comprehensive policies.
I did not contact other companies since there is an apparent consistency by insurers to automatically include cover to satisfy Queensland law in their policies. However, I strongly urge owners to check first with their insurance companies to ensure they are covered. And to receive confirmation in writing.
With regard to other issues such as rising insurance premiums, these relate to increases in risk largely occasioned by global warming and increased repair and replacement costs and is generally beyond the control of insurance companies.
Always remember to shop around.
The rise in boat registration costs also raised by Mr Shorter are I am afraid a matter of Queensland State revenue – but please remember your registration costs cover the very high cost of installing, repairing and replacing navigation marks. Boats setting their GPS co-ordinates to the mark itself destroy many of these.
That is why UK charts no longer include the lat/long of navigational marks.
* Reader Bill Shorter raised the issue of Queensland's weird and wonderful pollution legislation in the March issue of Cruising Helmsman.