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Despite a full year of COVID-19 restrictions, AMSA inspectors undertook 2,820 PSC inspections during 2021, a 6.65 per cent drop in the inspection rate from 2020 (3,021 PSC inspections). This was due to the continuation of procedures put in place in 2020 to protect both inspectors and crew from possible transmission of COVID-19 infection during inspections. 

The PSC inspection results for 2021 saw a slight decrease in the detention rate of ships from 5.9 per cent in 2020 to 5.6 per cent (the peak in 2011 was 9.2 per cent). 

The average deficiency rate remained relatively constant, increasing slightly from 2.1 deficiencies per inspection in 2020 to 2.2 deficiencies per inspection in 2021.

As noted in previous reports, from 2013 onwards, ships and operators with a record of poor performance can be refused access from entering or using Australian ports through a direction issued under section 246 of the Navigation Act 20121. In 2021, AMSA refused access to four ships for periods ranging from six to 36 months. Three of these directions were issued in response to significant breaches of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC).

This report includes basic MLC PSC statistics for comparison between deficiency and detention categories, however AMSA publishes a standalone MLC annual report which is available on the AMSA website.

2021 summary of PSC activity

  • During the calendar year there were: 
    • 26,400 ship arrivals by 6,170 foreign-flagged ships 
    • 2,820 PSC inspections 
    • 159 ship detentions. 
  • Bulk carriers accounted for 56.1 per cent of ship arrivals and 60.7 per cent of PSC inspections. 
  • PSC inspections were carried out at 53 Australian ports. 
  • The average gross tonnage per visit was 54,015 GT compared to 54,318 GT in 2020. 
  • The average age of ships calling Australian ports remained at 11 years, the same as 2020. 

10-year summary of inspection, detention and deficiency rates

Total inspections 3,179 3,342 3,742 4,050 3,675 3,128 2,922 3,222 3,021 2,820 
Total detentions 210233269242246165161163178159
Detention %

Deficiencies per 


Snapshot comparison to previous year 

  20202021When compared to 2020 
Arrivals   Total arrivals        26,179 26,400+0.8%(an increase of 221)
Individual ships which made those arrivals 6,081 6,170+1.4%(an increase of 89)
Ships eligible for PSC inspection 5,877 5,995+2.0%(an increase of 118)



Total PSC inspections 3,021 2,820-7.1%(a decrease of 201)
Total PSC inspections - by individual ships 2,764 2,567-7.7%(a decrease of 197)
Inspection rate of eligible ships % 47%42.8%-4.2%(a decrease of 4.2%)
Total deficiencies 6,3876,242-2.3%(a decrease of 145)
DeficienciesTotal detainable deficiencies 270221-22.2%(a decrease of 49)
Rate of deficiencies per inspection 2.12.2+4.5%(an increase of 0.1)
DetentionsTotal detentions 178159-11.9%a decrease of 19)
Detentions as a % of total inspections 5.9%5.6%-0.3%(a decrease of 0.3%)

Key points

  • In 2021, the number of foreign-flagged ship arrivals increased by 221 (0.8 per cent) to 26,400. The number of arrivals by individual ships increased by 89 to 6,170 (1.4 per cent).
  • The number of initial PSC inspections conducted during 2021 decreased by 201 (7.1 per cent) to 2820.
  • The overall number of deficiencies deceased to 6,242 in 2021, compared to 6,387 in 2020.
  • The average number of deficiencies per inspection increased slightly to 2.2 in 2021, compared to 2.1 in 2020.
  • The number of detainable deficiencies decreased to 221 in 2021, compared to 270 in 2020. The largest contributor to this was ISM detainable deficiencies despite decreasing to 53 in 2021, compared to 76 in 2020.
  • The number of detained ships decreased to 159 in 2021, compared to 178 in 2020. The detention per inspection rate decreased to 5.6 per cent in 2021, compared to 5.9 per cent in 2020.

The quality of ships coming to Australia continues to be of a high standard with the deficiency per inspection rate in 2021 remaining relatively low at 2.2 compared to 2.1 in 2020. Australia’s port State control regime continues to deliver the desired outcome of improved safety and exerts a positive influence on the quality of ships arriving in Australia.

Top five PSC inspections by flag State 2021

There were 2820 foreign-flagged ships
inspected in 2021.

The top five flag States accounted for 72% of
all inspections (2027 inspections).

Flag State (number of inspections)
Panama (624) 22.1%
Marshall Islands (429) 15.2%
Liberia (378) 13.4%
Hong Kong (358) 12.7%
Singapore (238) 8.4%

Top five PSC detention rates by flag State 2021

There was a total of 159 foreign-flag ship
detentions in 2021.

The average detention rate for all ships was

Flag State (Detention Rate %)
1. Antigua and Barbuda – 11.1%
2. Denmark – 10.0%
3. Taiwan, (Province of China) – 10.0%
4. Thailand – 10.0%
5. Portugal – 8.8%

 Note: this table only covers flag States with 10 or more inspections 

Trends from 2021

As observed in past PSC annual reports, the most frequent cause of detention since 2010 relates to ineffective implementation of the safety management system (SMS) as required by the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. In 2021 the number of ISM detainable deficiencies decreased to 53 (occurring in 1.9% of PSC inspections) compared to 76 in 2020 (occurring in 2.5% of PSC inspections). The rate of structural and equipment deficiencies per inspection remained substantial at 1.1, the same as in 2020 and an increase from 0.9 in 2019. This continues to highlight that maintenance issues are not being addressed by the ship’s SMS as implemented onboard. This is likely to be related to a combination of factors including:

  • Ongoing difficulties, as reported by operators, with conducting shore-based maintenance due to COVID-19 restrictions. Operators also reported difficulty in superintendents not being able to visit their ships due to COVID-19 restrictions, which affected their ability to conduct on-board SMS audits.
    • While AMSA acknowledges the effects of COVID-19 on shipping operations, AMSA considers that there has been sufficient time for operators to adapt their processes taking into account the effects of COVID-19.

Life-saving appliances (14.5 per cent), fire safety (13.6 per cent), and emergency systems (12.2 per cent) again appeared in the top five categories of detainable deficiencies. These three categories have been in the top five since 2014. 

Water/weather-tight deficiencies remained in the top five detainable deficiencies and increased slightly to 9.0 percent from 8.1 percent in 2020.

Top five detainable deficiencies 2019-2021

ISM – 23.9%ISM – 28.1%ISM – 24.0%
Fire safety – 17.4%Fire safety – 13.7%Lifesaving appliances – 14.5%
Emergency systems – 16.5%Lifesaving appliances – 13.7%Fire safety – 13.6%
Lifesaving appliances – 14.7%Emergency systems – 13.0%Emergency systems – 12.2%
Pollution prevention – 11.5%Water/weather-tight – 8.1%Water/weather-tight – 9.0%

In 2021, AMSA continued its work with flag States and ship owners to increase awareness of factors that may impact PSC performance. AMSA is also working jointly with flag States to bring ships into compliance. This includes assisting flag States to access ships in Australian ports to conduct their inspections. More information on this process is available at the flag State administration webpage.

Summary of shipping industry activity 2021

In 2021, iron ore and coal were again the largest bulk exports by value from Australia followed by gas2

The average gross tonnage of visiting ships decreased slightly in 2021 and the number of the port visits increased.

The main trends in 2021 were:

  • Foreign-flagged ship port visits totalled 26,400 in 2021, an increase of 0.8% from 2020. The number of individual ships that made these port calls increased slightly to 6,170, an increase of 89 (1.4 per cent) compared to 6,081 in 2020.
  • Bulk carrier port arrivals (14,814) increased by 3.2 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020 (14,355) and accounted for 56.1 per cent of foreign-flagged ship port arrivals.
  • Arrivals increased by 19.6 per cent for vehicle carriers and 12.0 per cent for general cargo ships.  Arrivals decreased by 19.9 per cent for livestock carriers and 11.9 per cent for chemical tankers. 
  • Arrivals of passenger ships dropped from 536 vessels in 2020 to 34 vessels in 2021, due to COVID-19. 
  • Foreign-flagged shipping activity remains geographically disparate between Australian ports. Port Hedland remains the busiest Australian port for foreign ship visits, accounting for 12.3 per cent of arrivals in Australia. The top five ports of Port Hedland, Newcastle, Brisbane, Gladstone and Melbourne accounted for 43.6 per cent of arrivals in Australia.
  • The size of visiting ships decreased slightly with the average gross tonnage reducing to 54,015 GT in 2021 compared to 54,318 GT in 2020. The average age of foreign ships arriving in Australian ports has increased slightly to 11.3 years in 2021.
  • The number of ship visits across inspection priority groups P1 and P2 remained similar to 2020 while P3 visits decreased by 4 per cent and P4 visits increased by 4 per cent. 76 per cent of arrivals were in the lower priority groups of P3 and P4. This reflects the average age of ships arriving in Australia being lower than the world average.3

Table 1 - Port visits by priority group

Number of visitsFleet shareNumber of visitsFleet shareNumber of visitsFleet share

* See page 39 for more details on priority groups.


1 In exercising this power it is important to note that AMSA only employs this mechanism where routine PSC intervention has not been effective in achieving a lasting change in behaviour. It is only used where a systemic failure has been identified. The intent of the process is to improve performance rather than simply remove problem ships from Australian ports.

2 Based on ABS trade data - 5368.0 International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia, Table 12b 

3 Based on Statista Research Department data