Australian-owned marine vessels undertaking commercial, government or research work will need to abide new national regulations from July 1.

The Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 will replace  50 separate pieces of legislation currently in force across each State and Territory of Australia providing  a uniform national set of duties for the safe maintenance and use of commercial vessels. 

Express safety duties are imposed on owners, designers, manufacturers, masters, crew and passengers of commercial vessels under the Act, breaches of which will attract penalties of up to $1,530,000 for companies and $306,000 and/or two years’ imprisonment for individuals.

Specific duties imposed on owners of commercial vessels include maintaining the vessel in a safe condition; implementing and maintaining a safety management system for the vessel; and providing information, instruction, training or supervision to people on board the vessel as is necessary to ensure their safety.

The existing Australian Maritime Safety Authority will be responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance of the new provisions. As part of this, the authority’s Marine Safety Inspectors will be granted significant powers to board vessels or enter premises connected to commercial vessels, direct a vessel to stop or manoeuvre in a specific way, inspect records in hard copy and electronic formats, operate equipment, seize items believed to be evidence of an offence against the Act and obtain information from individuals connected with a vessel.

Inspectors have authority to issue improvement notices to individuals or businesses they reasonably suspect of having breached an obligation imposed under the Act, requiring them to take specified action to rectify the breach within a certain period of time. Other powers granted to Inspectors under the Act include:

  1. issuing a prohibition notice, directing the master of an unsafe vessel not to operate the vessel until the Inspector is satisfied any safety risk posed by the vessel has been rectified;
  2. detaining a commercial vessel and/or ordering the vessel to return to port if the Inspector reasonably believes the vessel is, will be, or has been involved in a breach of the Act; and
  3. issuing an infringement notice to a person the Inspector reasonably believes has committed certain offences against the Act, imposing up to one fifth of the maximum penalty for the offence.

On application by an inspector, or at its own initiative, the authority may also suspend or revoke certificates of survey, operation and competency for a vessel or individual. Before taking such action the authority must provide the business or individual affected by the proposed suspension/revocation of the certificate an opportunity to put forward reasons why the suspension/revocation should not occur.

To prepare for the commencement of the Act on 1 July 2013, all businesses in the commercial maritime industry should:

  1. provide training to all staff engaged by the business on their personal safety duties under the Act;
  2. conduct a gap analysis review of the business’s existing operating procedures to identify any compliance issues with applicable safety duties;
  3. ensure all vessels and individuals obtain and/or maintain the necessary certifications;
  4. develop policies and procedures for dealing with Inspectors monitoring compliance with, or investigating a possible breach of, the Act.