Maritime casualty management

Arrangements between government and industry under the National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies to respond to shipping casualties.

The chances of a maritime casualty causing a major risk to Australia’s coastal interests are small, but the potential environmental consequences could be devastating.

This means incidents must be rapidly and effectively addressed.

Part of this response is an ocean-going emergency towage capability to assist with shipping casualties and to prevent pollution.

Although it is always the first responsibility of the ship-owner and operator to seek assistance when an incident occurs, Australia’s state, territory and federal governments recognise the benefits of an integrated emergency response capability.

This means timely support and direction can be provided when and where necessary.

This integrated approach is supported by:

  • port authorities
  • shipping interests
  • other stakeholders

Maritime emergency response commander 

To ensure fast, decisive action, we have appointed a Maritime Emergency Response Commander (MERCOM).

The MERCOM will act on behalf of the Authority during a shipping casualty where there is a risk of significant pollution.

State and Northern Territory Governments retain powers to deal with lesser pollution or environmental threats, and may still exercise powers independently.

The MERCOM is also able to take action, but must consider the reasonable views and positions of relevant authorities and stakeholders.

Stakeholders and authorities represent community views about economic, environmental, community and social interests that could be impacted by the MERCOM’s decisions.

Polluter pays

The principles of ‘potential polluter pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ apply where localised pollution or damage results from actions taken to prevent widespread pollution.

In the event of pollution or other damage, the ship requiring assistance pays costs and liabilities.

This is in accordance with the generally applicable principles under international conventions and domestic laws.

Related information

Last updated: 

Monday 26 July 2021