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Place of refuge guidelines

Identifying places of refuge during maritime emergencies.

What is a place of refuge?

Vessels in distress or in need of assistance sometimes need to find an appropriate place of refuge to stabilise or repair the vessel and prevent a situation from worsening.

The Commonwealth, state and Northern Territory governments have developed the National Maritime Places of Refuge Risk Assessment Guidance to inform and expedite decisions on requests for a place of refuge.

The guidelines are designed to ensure adequate and timely consultation so that all risks are identified and, where practical, addressed.

National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies

The need for national guidelines on places of refuge arose in 2002 following a number of overseas incidents concerning prompt access to places of refuge for ships in distress.

The National Maritime Places of Refuge Risk Assessment Guidance were developed and endorsed in 2003. An updated version was endorsed in 2009.

About the guidelines

Australia maintains the right to regulate entry into its ports and to protect its coastline and marine resources from pollution.

The guidelines are intended to assist Australian maritime administrations, ship masters and the maritime industry in circumstances where an emergency cannot be dealt with at sea.

The guidelines apply to any maritime incident in circumstances where state, Northern Territory or Commonwealth government agencies must consider a request for a place of refuge within internal waters, the territorial sea or the Australian exclusive economic zone.

While there is no international requirement for a country to provide a place of refuge, there is an established humanitarian right for a ship in distress to seek such refuge, and an obligation to render assistance.

The decision to provide a place of refuge is a balance between national interests and the needs of vessels and persons in distress.

The guidelines do not seek to replace or override arrangements already in place, but complement existing actions and procedures.

As such they provide a comprehensive basis for a common national approach to considering a place of refuge request.

Related information

Last updated: 

Monday 2 December 2019