Scientific and Environmental Issues
National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil
Annual Report 1996-97
The second draft of the National Maritime Chemical Spill Contingency Plan was released during March 1997 for comment.
The aim of the Plan, known as "ChemPlan", is to outline the national arrangements for responding to chemical spills in the marine environment. The aim is to protect public health and the marine environment from chemical pollution or, where this is not possible, to minimise such effects. ChemPlan is primarily directed towards chemical spills from, and on, vessels carrying bulk chemical cargoes, container chemical tanks and packaged chemicals.
ChemPlan has been developed by AMSA over a two year period. This has involved extensive liaison at various levels of government and with the chemical, shipping and oil industries, port authorities, fire authorities, environmental agencies and other stakeholders. ChemPlan outlines combined government and industry arrangements designed to allow a rapid and co-operative response to a maritime chemical spill occurring within the area defined by the Plan. The Plan is complemented by other Government and industry Contingency Plans prepared at Commonwealth, State/NT, regional, port and facility levels.
The multi-agency Steering Group has agreed that AMSA be the managing agency for the plan and that State/NT Fire Brigades and specialised HazMat groups have the combat role under the direction of a State/NT appointed Incident Controller. The controller would in most cases be a Harbour Master or other regionally based experienced mariner.
A detailed Maritime Chemical Spill Response Manual is also being prepared by AMSA which will support the National, Regional and Local contingency plans.
In conjunction with the Rescue Coordination Centre, the Marine Environment Protection Services Division called for tenders for the provision of near real time meteorological and oceanographic data and drift and trajectory modelling capabilities for Australian waters. The aim of this proposal is the development of a joint Search and Rescue/Oil Spill Trajectory Model (SAR/OSTM).
In 1996, AMSA selected as preferred tenderer a consortium headed by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and including the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (which will provide the OILMAP modelling software), the National Tidal Facility and the CSIRO Division of Oceanography. Contract negotiations are expected to be completed shortly.
The project will involve two main phases. It is envisaged that during the first phase in 97/98 new OILMAP front end modelling software will be acquired and existing Oil Spill Simulation Model (OSSM) hydrodynamic data converted into the OILMAP current atlas format. This will provide a much improved, user friendly and versatile trajectory model for the present geographic areas covered under OSSM. It will also provide improved modelling of the changing properties of the spilled oil or fuel, and will interface with the National Plan Coastal Resource Atlas CRA in a Geographic Information System (GIS) format.
The second and main phase involves the development of almost real time access to a vast array of land based, in-situ and satellite-derived oceanographic and meteorological data from the consortium over Australian Territorial waters, the Australian EEZ and all Australian Search and Rescue (SAR) areas. The present Australian SAR responsibility corresponds to one-ninth of the world's ocean surface or 47 million square kilometres.
Coastal Resource Atlases (CRAs) are essential tools in contingency planning and in decision-making during marine pollution incidents. CRAs provide a means of determining marine and coastal areas of sensitivity that could be affected in the event of a pollution incident. They also provide valuable resource and logistical information for combat authorities.
Under funding by the National Plan, all States and the Northern Territory have embarked on programs over the past five years to record and document their coastal and marine resources. Most State and Territory CRAs are now in a Geographic Information System (GIS) based form on PCs using an ArcView format. Progress during 1996/97 is summarised in the State/NT reports.
These detailed computerised atlases identify marine and foreshore ecosystems and biological resources. This helps determine environmental sensitivity to oil spills, the allocation of protection priorities. They also provide information to authorities on spill response options. These include boom deployment, dispersant use and foreshore clean-up techniques to be employed; site access, local infrastructure and disposal sites for wastes generated.
The National Oil on the Sea Identification Database (NOSID) project is funded under the National Plan by AMSA and the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO). The Australian Government Analytical Laboratories (AGAL) and the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS) also collaborate on this initiative.
The aim of NOSID is to improve the quality, reliability and discriminating power of oil fingerprinting techniques in Australia for forensic, general environmental or geochemical purposes.
During the reporting period, AGSO completed and packaged a small Oil Identification Reference Kit containing a subset of the NOSID oils, standards and all documentation. This is now in use by Dubai EPA and about to be shipped to the Korean Ocean Research and Development Institute.
The database, once fully complete, will be administered by the curator of standards at AGAL in WA.
The Review of the National Plan response to the Iron Baron Oil Spill in Tasmania recommended that:
- "a National Wildlife Response Plan should be pursued as a matter of priority and included as part of the National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil" (Recommendation 30).
The primary responsibility for oiled wildlife response and planning lies with State/NT Marine Pollution Committees and associated agencies. It is now recognised, however, that the response also requires national coordination, support and funding.
A Working Group of the National Plan Advisory Committee (NPAC) was formed to ascertain Australia's ability to respond effectively in managing wildlife cleaning and rehabilitation after an oil spill.
AMSA, the Australian Nature Conservation Agency and Taronga Zoo have developed terms of reference for the Working Group which have been endorsed by the National Plan Advisory Committee. The first draft of the plan is expected to be completed during late 1997.
Recommendation 17 of the Review of the Response into the Iron Baron Oil Spill stated:
- "Appropriate wildlife rescue and rehabilitation kits should be included in any pool of response material and be made available, under the National Plan, at key locations around the country."
Four Oiled Wildlife Cleaning & Rehabilitation Kits have now been purchased and assembled by AMSA, and transported to Sydney, Darwin, Townsville, and Como (Western Australia).
With the existing oiled wildlife kit at AMOSC Geelong, the planned kit at Adelaide and existing equipment in Tasmania, the National Plan has oiled wildlife kits with a capacity to treat in the vicinity of 3000-4000 animals or birds.
As managing agency for the National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil, AMSA signed a contract on 6 May 1996 with the Australian Institute of Marine Science to undertake a two year research program into the use of bioremediation to clean up oil spills. Funding for the research is being provided primarily by the Energy Research and Development Corporation, AMSA, AIP and Environment Australia.
Bioremediation, the enhancement of naturally occurring oil degrading microbes, offers great potential in the clean up of oil spills, especially on environmentally sensitive foreshores.
This innovative program involves both laboratory and field research into the use and optimisation of oil bioremediation techniques. The objective of the project is to assess the feasibility of bioremediation to clean up oil spills in environmentally sensitive tropical foreshore environments and to incorporate the findings into the overall planning and response systems for oil spills in Australia.
The first year of the project has been completed and field work will commence shortly. This will investigate novel bioremediation techniques such as oxygen injection and nutrient addition.
The project has raised significant interest both locally and internationally, with a number of UK and US companies and organisations indicating possible willingness to fund additional testing and research activities.
The National Plan funded Sixth Scientific Support Coordinators (SSC's) Workshop was held in Launceston in December 1996 and drew delegates from all States and the Northern Territory except WA. Participants from USA and Thailand also attended the Workshop, together with representatives from the oil and shipping industries, Taronga Zoo, and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
The proceedings of the Sixth SSC Workshop have been published and major topics covered by papers included:
New chemical products and spill treatment agents have significant potential in improving the overall effectiveness of oil spill clean up. However, their use in past spills in Australia has been limited because of insufficient information on the effectiveness and potential environmental side effects. Some of these concerns were raised during the Iron Baron spill response.
The field testing of new products and chemical agents should be the last step in the product evaluation process, which should begin, with specific laboratory tests designed to answer specific questions of respondees.
It is often the case that product literature supplied by the manufacturer or distributor:
Recommendation 11 of the Review of the Response into the Iron Baron Oil Spill stated that:
- "The National Plan Advisory Committee, with the assistance and support of Scientific Support Co-ordinators, should develop an agreed protocol to handle the testing of new products."
To address this issue two papers were presented by the AMSA Scientific & Environmental Adviser at the Sixth SSCs Workshop:
The National Plan Advisory Committee agreed with the proposals put by the SSC's. Consequently, any chemical product not yet approved and registered with AMSA at the time of an oil spill will not be considered for use during an incident. All appropriate chemical product suppliers will be requested to provide AMSA with their product approvals in advance, which would then be included on the register when received. AMSA will also undertake to develop the protocol for product approvals.