Delays caused by vessels failing Department of Agriculture (DA) surveys on vessels' holds at the berth are being addressed by the Government with the introduction of DA Authorised Officers (AOs) performing surveys at anchorage together with the marine survey.

Consider the following example: a vessel is waiting at anchorage. A marine surveyor attends on board to survey the vessel's holds and the vessel passes inspection. On this basis, the Master issues the vessel's Notice of Readiness. As the port is congested, the vessel waits at anchorage for a further 20 days, presumably on laytime.  It is brought to berth where a DA officer (Department of Agriculture, previously AQIS officer) attends on board and conducts a survey of the ship's ability to hygienically transport grain in accordance with Australian government standards.

At this stage, however, the DA officer does not pass the vessel. The vessel then takes several days to rectify the situation. There is a dispute about the NOR and laytime and the whole grain supply chain is affected by the delays. It is estimated that 20% of ships fail the DA survey which results in high costs and delays.

In 2011, the Federal Government began examining ways in which the export certification process could be improved. It suggested that AQIS (now DA) should allow industry to engage its own DA Authorised Officers (AOs). These people are trained in export inspection functions in accordance with Australian export legislation. The idea being, that in addition to other industry people, marine surveyors could become DA AOs so that they could conduct the export certification survey at anchorage after they had completed the marine survey. Having both surveys completed at anchorage could reduce delays at berth because deficiencies could be found at anchorage instead of when the vessel was already at the berth.

While we understand that some Victorian marine surveyors have now completed the online AO training course, to our knowledge, none have yet been assessed or granted accreditation. The feedback from the industry is that there are concerns the new system could jeopardise the quality of the inspections. Concerns have also been raised about the possible perception of bias. This is an area of change in the industry which we will be closely monitoring for developments.  Keep an eye out for our next update about DA AOs.