Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Today, the Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland (EDO NQ) revealed alarming figures highlighting an exceptionally high rate of vessel detentions on arrival in the Port of Cairns, at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, as a result of Safety Management System failures.  Fergus Power, Principal Solicitor for EDO NQ, stated: “We are very concerned about the environmental impact of shipping movements within the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, especially in light of the proposed massive increase in shipping movements associated with the current port expansions.”

The data that highlighted this very high rate of ship detention in Cairns focused on deficiencies likely to lead to catastrophic environmental events.  The more technical issues such as sewage management problems and lifeboat deficiencies unlikely to have any environmental impact were deliberately excluded.

An analysis of vessel inspection and detention rates for 2011-12 for the five busiest North East Queensland ports from Gladstone north shows that Cairns not only has the lowest vessel inspection rate, with a mere 3% of vessels arriving being inspected, but it also has the highest detention rate as a result of the inspections carried out.  An incredible 37% of vessels inspected were detained for deficiencies, which potentially could lead to an environmentally catastrophic event such as a major grounding or collision, and associated oil spill disaster. 

The Port of Townsville, isn’t far behind either, with a vessel detention rate 86% higher than the average for it, Hay Point, Gladstone and Mackay. Hay Point sets a best practice benchmark with 26% of vessels inspected for a 7% detention rate.

Mr Power commented “This is of great environmental significance as the data shows that a high number of defective vessels, which pose a serious risk to the environment, are entering the ports of Cairns and Townsville through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. While limited inspections are taking place in relation to arrivals, high proportions of the vessels actually inspected are being detained. It is alarming that inspection resources have not been significantly increased in past years to increase the rate in Cairns beyond the currently inadequate level of 3%.” (Please see Annex C for inspection rates in these ports between 2007-2011.)

EDO NQ believes that a better-resourced inspection system will ultimately result in higher compliance of the ships entering ports through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and better protection of this global icon.  This has been proven in the Port of Hay Point where an extremely high rate of compliance for a high vessel inspection rate has enabled a reduction of inspections in recent years (see Annexes A, B and C).         

“While scrutiny of this type is essential in order to properly hold Federal and State governments, and industry, accountable for their actions or failure to act, perversely, the Abbott Government yesterday announced immediate cancellation of $10 million of grants, contracted over four years by the previous government, to the nine State and Territory EDO offices.  These cuts threaten to shut down legal services for local communities who wish to protect their environment”, said Mr Power.

‘‘The Great Barrier Reef needs independent legal advocates to protect it and we are extremely disappointed that they are terminating a four-year funding agreement only six months into the term.  However, we are confident that the community will rally to protect the environment and ensure continuance of services’’, said Mr Power.

It’s time for the community to draw a line in the sand, and send a clear message to the Abbott Government – ‘Hands off our EDOs” – they are here to keep the Government and industry accountable, and provide a voice for a community to have input into major projects which can have serious impacts on our environment. You can help by telling Prime Minister Abbott to restore funding to EDOs, and by donating to EDO NQ right now.

Donations to EDO NQ can be made via the Facebook page - or via the web site:

Ends (Click Image to download PDF which includes charts, graphs and further information.

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Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland (EDO-NQ)

The Environmental Defenders Office of Northern Queensland is part of the Australian Network of Environmental Defenders Offices Inc which consists of nine independently constituted and managed community environmental law centres located in each State and Territory of Australia.

Each EDO is dedicated to protecting the environment in the public interest.

We provide legal representation and advice, take an active role in environmental law reform and policy formulation, and offer a significant education program designed to facilitate public participation in environmental decision making.

Fergus Power
P: +61 7 4031 4766
M: +61 427 689 356


Great Barrier Reef, mining and environment, environmental protection in Australia



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