Marine surveyors slam national safety system

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Concerns over new commercial vessel safety system highlighted in IIMS survey.

The International Institute of Marine Surveying (IIMS) has released details of a poll of its Australian members which reveals serious concerns in the industry about the operation of the new national system for commercial vessel safety introduced by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on 1 July.

The survey of 60 local IIMS members found that over half of respondents believe the new system will result in vessels being less safe to operate; 29% said they will be far less safe.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they found it either difficult or very difficult access information, understand legislative requirements and get decisions from AMSA, while 79% said that AMSA did not listen to surveyors or takes their views into account when formulating policy and systems.

The introduction of the national system has seen responsibility for commercial vessel safety transfer from local state and territory agencies to a single national agency, AMSA. The system has been promoted as improving marine safety while reducing red tape and streamlining costs. However, feedback from marine surveyors following the introduction of the system suggest it is having the opposite effect.

Problems with the system raised by surveyors include a major increase in the amount of paperwork they have to complete, difficulties in interacting with AMSA's systems, a lack of resources allocated to prepare for the changes, and fears that vessel safety will be compromised due to changes in the scope and frequency of vessel surveys.

The reality is that AMSA have bowed and sold out to industry on every occasion,” commented one surveyor. “The tail wags the dog in this case. They have not made any decisions based on a positive safety outcome. The mantra is reduce requirements and reduce costs. This however has no long term benefits and achieves only the opposite.”

Recent changes to survey schedules ignore generations of experience of accidents and incidents,” commented another. “People are going to die if this isn’t stopped.”

Adam Brancher, IIMS president and managing director of Kedge Marine Surveyors based in Hobart, said that while the implementation of the national system had been known months in advance, the detail of its operation was only made available to marine surveyors five weeks ago. As a result, the amount of paperwork required has increased five-fold, increasing the time it takes to complete a survey and, ultimately, making it more expensive for owners.

Part of the problem, he said, is that vessel records previously held by state agencies have not been transferred to AMSA, resulting in surveyors having to provide a lot more information to AMSA.

AMSA recently announced an extension to the levy-free period for commercial operators to three years. However, according to survey respondents, commercial operators will eventually end up more paying more.

In three to four years’ time when the majority of mandatory inspections will be due and government funding is exhausted the impact on industry will be catastrophic,” commented one surveyor.

Another surveyor raised the issue of vessels up to 12 metres being classified as “non survey” and subject only to self-assessment rather than a mandatory survey.

This is the same system that delivered the fatal Malu Sara incident that saw the vessels not undergo any survey compliance checks, rather a trust and verify model that failed.”

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