3.1 Outputs and business processes of the regulatory charging activities

3.1.1 Activity outputs

As described in Section 1.2.1, AMSA’s role is to deliver on seafarer and ship safety, and marine environmental protection through regulation, as well as provide search and rescue capability. The broad outputs and primary activities for all roles are itemised in Table 2, which also notes whether the output is subject to regulatory charging (cost recovery) or not.

Table 2: AMSA’s broad activity output listing

Activity output Primary activities Regulatory charging?
Search and rescue activities and functions
  • Operating AMSA Response Centre, coordinating maritime and aviation search and rescue.
  • Providing a ground station and Mission Control Centre for the Cospas Sarsat distress beacon detection system.
  • Maintaining maritime distress and safety communications services.
  • Providing dedicated airborne search and rescue services.
No, funded by government budget appropriations
Navigational infrastructure
  • Providing and maintaining a national network of marine aids to navigation (AtoN) and related navigational systems and measures.
  • Intergovernmental and international engagement to shape and ensure appropriate maritime standards are in place (e.g. for Australia’s obligations under the SOLAS convention and for the provision of AtoN that align with international guidance from IALA).
Environmental marine protection
  • Managing the National Plan, including crisis preparedness to combat marine environmental emergencies (pollution incidents).
  • Regulating, monitoring, and coordinating maritime casualty management and emergency towage capability.
  • Conducting pollution prevention public awareness and education campaigns.
Seafarer and ship safety under Navigation Act 2012 and other Acts
  • Monitoring compliance with operational standards for ships in Australian waters, under the Act, to ensure their seaworthiness, safety, and pollution prevention.
  • Participating in the development and implementation of national and international marine safety and environment protection standards.
  • Providing public access to ship safety and environment protection standards and policies.
  • Administering training standards for seafarers and coastal pilots.
  • Conducting safety public awareness and education campaigns.
  • Exercising occupational health and safety inspectorate functions.
Marine services under Navigation Act 2012 and ship registration under Shipping Registration Act 1981
  • Administering certificates of competency for seafarers and coastal pilots.
  • Conducting inspections, surveys, and audits requested by ship owners or their agents.
  • Administering Australia’s ship registration system.
Marine services under National System for domestic commercial vessels
  • Assessing applications and issuing approvals and certificates of operation, survey, and competency of near coastal seafarer qualifications.
  • Assessing applications and issuing approvals for network of accredited marine surveyors.
  • Assessing applications that request exemptions from the application of the National System, and equivalent means of competency.
Seafarer and ship safety under the National System for domestic commercial vessels
  • Monitoring compliance with standards for the domestic commercial vessel fleet, 
  • Participating in the development and implementation of domestic marine safety and environment protection standards.
  • Conducting safety awareness and education campaigns for domestic commercial vessel industry.
No, funded by combination of government budget appropriations and jurisdiction contributions
Externally funded programs
  • Externally funded programs sponsored by various government departments for provision of specific maritime related services, predominantly in relation to search and rescue capabilities.
No, funded by various government departments

Operational targets of activity outputs are contained in the annual report and performance statements of AMSA’s, which describes the reportable measurements to achieve policy outcomes. A summary of regulatory charging activity non-financial performance measures is in Section 8.

3.1.2 Business processes

Levy-based activities

Levy-based charging activities relate to the provision of statutory regulatory services to a group of individuals or organisations, as opposed to transactional business processes. These regulatory-based business processes are carried out as overall activities that aim to minimise the risks of shipping and pollution incidents and maximise safety of people involved.

Business processes include provision and maintenance of aids to navigation sites, standard and policy development specifically related to our regulatory functions, managing the National Plan for maritime environmental emergencies, compliance audits, investigations and enforcement, and development and promulgation of educational and advisory material.

Fee-based activities

Driven largely by transactional business processes specifically performed for, or at the request of, or on the application of a particular individual or organisation. Fee-based regulatory charging activities support specific regulatory functions to which the fees relate. There is clear and distinct linkage of costs of the business processes to an individual or organisation.

Generic business processes for AMSA’s fee-based activities include:

  • receipt, review, and decision on an application, including ongoing consultation with the applicant,
  • undertaking technical assessment, with a decision made by a delegate, and
  • processing and issuing a certificate, license, exemption, determination, or approval.

In practice, administrative business procedures for the receipt, review and issue are broadly similar across fee-based charging activities. However, time and effort (and associated costs) for technical assessments and decisions vary between the types of outputs and on the complexity or nature of the application.

3.2 Costs of regulatory charging activities

AMSA applies an activity-based costing methodology to determine costs for activity outputs and regulatory charging activities, as depicted in Appendix 2. This holistic methodology allocates all costs to activity outputs based on estimated time and effort, and associated cost drivers.

3.2.1 Changes in costing model techniques

In developing the 2022-23 budget, AMSA undertook a traditional approach to budgeting and then applied a top-down activity-based costing exercise building on the framework developed in 2020-21 that is transparent, defensible, and repeatable. The approach in developing costing models is contained in Appendix 3, including cost drivers, assumptions, and sensitivities.

AMSA is currently engaged in the next stage of its continuous improvement program by mapping key processes, measuring effective service delivery, and analysing costs through benchmarking direct and overhead activities against industry standards to determine efficiency. This will support the government review of AMSA’s operations and reduce administrative burden and costs to regulated entities, without compromising safety.

3.2.2 Nature of costs

The nature and make-up of costs vary considerably across AMSA’s regulatory charging activity groups. For example, for provision and maintenance of aids to navigation there is an extensive capital cost component (depreciation), with consistently high operational maintenance costs, reflecting the hostile environmental conditions in which these assets operate.

In contrast, compliance and certification activity groups are labour intensive and as such have a high staff cost component. Generally, activities with a large staffing level require a higher proportion of property operating expenditure and ICT overheads compared to activities that have minimal labour inputs.

3.2.3 Cost categories


Direct costs are those costs directly and clearly attributed to an activity group based on estimations of resource requirements to deliver statutory and regulatory obligations and include direct operational management support activities – direct costs include employee, suppliers, and depreciation expenditure.

AMSA business line managers provided direct input in assigning costs to activities, including staff utilisation to achieve operational outcomes validated by estimated time and effort requirements, and supplier costs based on an analysis and nature of expenditure.

Corporate overheads

Overheads include property operating expenditure, ICT networking, communication costs, and enabling tasks and processes to support service delivery of AMSA’s activity outputs through provision of corporate services and executive functions.

Enabling overheads comprise executive, human resources, finance, governance, and general ICT support – accompanying their respective share of property operating expenditure, ICT networking, and communication costs.
AMSA applies several cost drivers to allocate indirect, support, and corporate overhead costs to direct activity outputs, as detailed in Appendix 3.

Capital costs

Depreciation and amortisation are a representation of capital costs, used to determine capital expenditure requirements for replacement and enhancement of assets. Assessed on an asset-by-asset basis to identify the appropriate treatment, where there is a specific direct link depreciation is assigned to that activity group, whereas corporate support related depreciation is assigned to the appropriate overhead classification.

3.2.4 Cost estimates for 2022-23

Estimated costs for providing AMSA’s regulatory charging activities, broken down into direct average staffing levels (ASL), and direct, overheads, and capital costs is set out in Table 3.

Table 3: Breakdown of costs estimates for 2022-23

Activity output and groups Direct
Corporate overheads
Navigational infrastructure 14.0 22,880 4,153 6,642 33,675
Provision and maintenance of aids to navigation 9.9 18,600 2,986 6,642 28,059
Vessel traffic services (ReefVTS) 0.3 3,514 309 12 3,835
Provision of under keel clearance management 0.6 137 552 70 759
Standards development 1.5 392 152 40 584
(i.e. native title management, and levy management)
1.7 237 154 47 438
Environmental marine protection 16.7 19,707 3,422 4,778 27,907
National Plan pollution response 13.0 19,492 3,281 4,736 27,509
(i.e. education and engagement, and levy management)
1.6 215 141 42 398
Seafarer and ship safety 135.8 35,830 15,461 4,354 55,645
Compliance 31.4 8,772 3,439 1,230 13,441
Standard development 32.5 7,004 3,123 842 10,969
Integrated operations 20.5 4,412 3,342 547 8,301
Decision support and intelligence 6.7 4,954 925 182 6,061
Enforcement 10.5 2,418 1,045 310 3,773
Education and engagement 11.1 2,312 1,101 340 3,753
Maritime distress alerting and safety systems 9.1 1,758 948 356 3,062
Audit and assurance 5.2 1,748 552 144 2,444
Ship registration 2.0 996 235 133 1,364
(i.e. certification, qualifications, vessel traffic safety, seafarer safety, exemptions and approvals, and levy management)
6.8 1,456 751 270 2,477
Marine services & ship registration 23.3 5,656 2,733 1,056 9,445
Certification 8.2 2,291 1,077 458 3,826
Qualifications 7.3 1,637 859 216 2,712
Audit and assurance 4.3 1,184 475 168 1,827
Ship registration 3.1 420 279 216 901
Exemptions and approvals 0.4 124 43 12 179
Marine services National System 22.0 4,987 2,583 974 8,544
Certification 12.6 2,964 1,603 696 5,263
Qualifications 7.0 1,685 760 207 2,652
Exemptions and approvals 2.4 338 220 71 629
Total for regulatory charging 211.8 89,060 28,352 17,804 135,216

* Direct ASL does not include line manager support, corporate support, nor non-regulatory charging activities (such as search and rescue, or National System regulatory function output currently funded by government).
** Consists of various activities considered immaterial for reporting purposes.

3.3 Design of regulatory charges

3.3.1 Charging structure

Regulating international shipping and domestic commercial vessels and seafarers is a complex undertaking, with a wide variety of vessel types, manning levels, competency prerequisites, handling requirements for various cargoes, operational conditions, and jurisdiction and international obligations.

AMSA applies a ‘user pays’ principle for regulatory charging activities. The design of AMSA’s regulatory charging activity outputs considers whether the provision of such regulatory activities is to an individual entity (reasonably attributed to that entity), or to a group of entities (provided to commercial shipping industry and broader community) – where the former, fees are charged, whereas the latter involves levies.

AMSA’s broad charging structure is summarised in Table 4.

Table 4: Charging structure of regulatory activity outputs

Activity output Charging mechanism Structure
Levy-based activities
Navigational infrastructure Marine Navigation Levy Net registered tonnage – sliding scale
Environmental marine protection Protection of the Sea Levy Net registered tonnage – linear
Seafarer and ship safety under Navigation Act 2012 and other Acts Regulatory Function Levy Net registered tonnage – sliding scale
Fee-based activities
Marine services under Navigation Act 2012 and ship registration Fee Determination
(fee-based activities)
Direct (fixed) fee or hourly rate
Marine services under National System National Law Regulation
(fee-based activities)
Direct (fixed) fee or hourly rate

Levy-based activities

AMSA’s methodology for charging levies is derived from historical predecessors, as well as international standards where banding by tonnage is considered common practice for the commercial shipping industry. Levy rates within these bands, are adjusted periodically to address shortfalls or imbalances, with the last change occurring in 2014-15.

International commercial vessels are liable for levies on either (1) the date of arrival to an Australian port, or (2) where the vessel is in Australian waters with no corresponding paid levy applicable for the previous three months, the day after the end of that period. For Australian coastal trading vessels, unless the vessel is out-of-service, levies are payable at the start of each quarter.

The average number of port visits during each levy payment period (three months) varies depending on the vessel type and handling of cargoes, with bulk cargo vessels averaging around one to two visits per levy payment period and container ships around five to six.

The commercial shipping industry pays levies on non-exempted vessels6 that are twenty-four metres or more in tonnage length, with the rate based on a vessel’s net registered tonnage, with environmental marine protection activity output charged on vessels that also carry ten or more tonnes of oil on board7, with a minimum amount payable of $10. AMSA’s levy ready reckoner is in Table 5.

Table 5: AMSA’s levy ready reckoner

  Net Registered Tonnage (NRT)
From: 0 5,001 20,001 50,001
To: 5,000 20,000 50,000
Levy* Cents per NRT Cents per NRT Cents per NRT Cents per NRT
Marine Navigation Levy  23.50 12.00 7.00 2.50
Regulatory Function Levy 17.00 17.10 17.00 15.50
Protection of the Sea Levy 11.25 11.25 11.25 11.25
Levy calculation method 51.75c for each tonne $2,587.50 plus 40.35c for each tonne over 5,000 $8,640.00 plus 35.25c for each tonne over 20,000 $19,215.00 plus 29.25c each tonne over 50,000

Most vessel types visiting Australia continue to be bulk cargo carriers, with iron ore and coal vessels contributing ~67% of total net tonnage – which indicates a heavy reliance on iron ore and coal exports.

Despite the steady increase in the quantity and size of international ships visiting Australian ports, shipping usage for aids to navigation, demand for inspections, and other regulatory functions is largely influenced by externalities that may impact volumes year-on-year. These are largely outside the control of AMSA, including the COVID-19 pandemic, potential trade disputes, economic disruptions, and the changing climate.

In relation to environmental marine protection, given the nature and purpose of this activity, it is not possible to ascertain when a marine environmental emergency will occur. When an incident does occur, costs of clean-up operations and financial commitments can be enormous, with legal proceedings often taking years to conclude. While international compensation regimes are generally highly effective, the cost of responding to an incident can exceed the available liability and compensation limits. From evidence of significant incidents overseas, governments have had to bear the shortfall, which can be many hundreds of millions of dollars.

These factors mean that any projections of expected growth (or reductions) in demand for regulatory charging activities must consider complex relationships within the commercial shipping industry. AMSA is continuing to develop and rollout risk-based models to provide better insights into the linkage between the level of regulation effort to cost recovered revenue from industry. 

Fee-based activities

Fee-based activities include, assessment of applications, exemptions and determinations, inspections and surveys, registration of vessels, conducting examinations, and accreditation of non-government service providers.

AMSA applies fixed fees to regulatory charging fee-based activities where the range of typical delivery times do not vary significantly from the standard average time. Where there are wide variations, indicated by significant divergences from the standard deviation, the basis of the relevant charge is an hourly rate, and any reasonable unavoidable travel costs. These travel costs may be flights and accommodation, where provision of services are at locations remote from AMSA’s regional offices8, or motor vehicle travel rates where vehicles are used for the mode of transportation to and from offices9.

Marine services and ship registration is tracked using multiple systems, including a Coastal Pilotage System, International Marine Qualifications System, NAVIS (ship registration), MARS (domestic commercial vessels), and Financial Management Information System. Volumes are estimated based on inputs provided by business line managers during the budget development process, using largely historical data obtained from these various systems, and adjusted for expected variances.

A schedule of fee-based regulatory charging activities, separated into fees under the Navigation Act 2012 and fees under National System, is included in Appendix 4. Charging rates are published on AMSA’s website.

3.3.2 Revenue estimates

Revenue estimates for current year (2021-22), budget (2022-23), and the three forward year estimates are summarised in Table 6.

Table 6: Revenue estimates

  Estimate Budget Forward Year Estimates
Activity outputs 2021-22
Levy-based activities
Navigational infrastructure 37,753 38,357 39,124 39,906 40,704
Environmental marine protection 38,430 39,045 39,826 40,623 41,435
Seafarer and ship safety 57,733 58,657 59,830 61,027 62,248
Total levy-based activities 133,916 136,059 138,780 141,556 144,387
Fee-based activities
Fees under Navigation Act 2012 and Shipping Registration Act 1981 3,275 2,857 3,210 3,210 3,210
Fees for National System 3,722 3,208 3,140 3,140 3,140
Total fee-based activities  6,997 6,065 6,350 6,350 6,350
Total regulatory charging 140,913 142,124 145,130 147,906 150,737

3.3.3 Independent Review of Domestic Commercial Vessel Safety

In late 2021, the Australian Government commissioned an independent expert panel to conduct a comprehensive review of the National Law and associated legislative framework, commencing work in 2022. The review is also considering costs, charging, and future funding arrangements for the National System.

The Review will be conducted in these two distinct phases. Phase 1 will focus on the legislative framework of the National Law in the context of safety objectives and assess whether legislation is fit-of-purpose, with a report is expected to be released in June 2022. Phase 2 will focus on the National System delivery costs, charging, and future funding options, with a report to be released to Australian Government in late 2022.

The independent review will be informed by significant and comprehensive stakeholder engagement, including public discussion papers supported by efforts to encourage public submissions including industry consultation.

The final report will include recommendations to the Australian Government on options for future funding arrangements for National System, including considering alternative delivery approaches. Recommended options will seek to improve safety, reduce costs for industry where appropriate, and provide financial stability and certainty for industry and for AMSA. The timing is expected to align with the 2023-24 Commonwealth Budget Process.


6 There is a list of exemptions contained in the Marine Navigation Levy Collection Regulations 2018, Marine Navigation (Regulatory functions) Levy Collection Act 1991, and Protection of the Sea (Shipping Levy) Regulation 2014.

7 There will be situations where vessels exempted from both the Marine Navigation Levy and Regulatory Function Levy may be liable for the Protection of the Sea Levy. Generally, these vessels include fishing, religious charitable, non-for-profit organisation, or research vessels.

8 Given the various locations of AMSA offices, these costs will generally be limited.

9 Defined as more than twenty-five (25) kilometres from an AMSA office, the charge is based on a per kilometre basis specified by the Australian Taxation Office business use rates.