Australian Maritime Safety Authority

North East Shipping Management

Managing our northern waters

The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait are among the best protected waters in the world.

Shipping management arrangements

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority works closely with the International Maritime Organization, as well as its state and federal government partners, to ensure shipping management arrangements provide for the safety of ships and the protection of the marine environment.

In the last five years there have been more than 40,000 vessel movements in the region and only one major incident.

With shipping movements in Australia's north east region expected to grow, the North East Shipping Management Plan (NESMP) had been jointly developed by Queensland and Australian Government agencies in conjunction with industry and key interest groups.

The plan contains a suite of proposed measures to:

  • manage future increases in shipping traffic
  • ensure the safety of shipping
  • prevent ship-sourced pollution and other environmental impacts in the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and Coral Sea regions.

Emergency towage is the initial response to assist in cases such as:

  • drifting
  • sinking
  • groundings
  • minimising the risk of oil spills.

There is emergency towage capability for Australia’s entire coastline, however AMSA’s only permanent emergency towage vessel, the Coral Knight, is on station in the North Great Barrier Reef and Great North East Channel to provide swift response to an incident.

Protection Measures

Protection Measures in the GBR and Torres Strait View
full-size map

Aids to Navigation Network

AMSA manages an extensive network of aids to assist navigation such as lighthouses, beacons, buoys, racons, Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) stations, broadcasting tide gauges and metocean sensors.

Pollution Prevention and Response

AMSA applies international conventions that regulate discharge of waste from ships in Australian waters. It coordinates marine pollution preparedness and response services, and maintains stockpiles of response equipment in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Brisbane.

National Maritime Emergency Response Arrangements

AMSA regulates, monitors and coordinates a 24 hour emergency towage service as part of the National Maritime Emergency Response Arrangements. Emergency towage is the initial response to assist in cases such as drifting, sinking, groundings and also minimising the risk of oil spills. There is emergency towage capability for Australia’s entire coastline however AMSA’s only permanent emergency towage vessel, the Pacific Responder, is on station in the North Great Barrier Reef and Great North East Channel to allow for swift response to an incident.

Coastal Pilotage

The only coastal pilotage areas that AMSA regulates are located in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait. Coastal pilots provide ship masters with advice and planning for the intended route. The coastal pilot provides local knowledge of the marine area, local rules and guidelines.

Particularly Sensitive Sea Area

The Great Barrier Reef was the world’s first designated Particularly Sensitive Sea Area by the International Maritime Organization, in 1990 and then the Torres Strait in 2005. Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas allow additional protection measures to be applied to vessels that transit the area.

REEF Vessel Traffic Service

The REEF Vessel Traffic Service (REEFVTS) provides near-real time monitoring of shipping movements in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is compulsory for vessels to report while in the area.

Under Keel Clearance Management System

The UKCM system provides a prediction of the distance between a ship’s hull and the seabed by using information inputs such as tides and the ship’s draught and speed. This allows pilots and masters to accurately navigate through the reefs and cays of the Torres Strait.

Vessel Inspections [pdf iconPDF: 208Kb]

Through Port State Control inspections, AMSA monitors and enforces compliance of ships in Australian waters with internationally agreed standards for seaworthiness, safety and pollution prevention.

Find out more about the North-East Shipping Management Plan.

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