As with all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic presented risks to AMSA’s PSC regime throughout 2020. AMSA implemented procedures to protect both our inspectors and ships crews from possible transmission of COVID-19 during inspections. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, AMSA Inspectors undertook 3021 PSC inspections during 2020. While this is a reduction of 6.2 per cent from 2019, it is only a slight reduction of 201 inspections over the full year, or around 4 per week around the entire country. When compared against the number of arrivals, this outcome is a positive achievement as the 6.2 per cent drop-in inspections occurred in a period where the total port arrivals decreased by 8.4 per cent, or 2405 less arrivals.

The PSC inspection results for 2020 saw a slight increase in the detention rate of ships from 5.1 per cent in 2019 to 5.9 per cent (The peak in 2011 was 9.2 per cent).

The average deficiency rate also increased from 1.6 deficiencies per inspection in 2019 to 2.1 deficiencies per inspection in 2020. While an increase was observed, the deficiency rate has only been less than 2.1 twice in the last 10 years.

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 2020, AMSA refused access to five ships for periods ranging from 3 to 12 months. Four of these directions were issued in response to significant breaches of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC).

The annual PSC report previously contained a section dedicated to MLC. The information is now contained in a separate dedicated MLC report available on the AMSA website co-located with this report.

This report retains the basic MLC PSC statistics contained in previous reports for the purpose of comparison between deficiency and detention categories.

2020 summary of PSC activity

  • During the calendar year there were:
    • 26,179 ship arrivals by 6081 foreign-flagged ships
    • 3021 PSC inspections
    • 178 ship detentions.
  • Bulk carriers accounted for 54.8 per cent of ship arrivals and 60.9 per cent of PSC inspections.
  • PSC inspections were carried out at 46 Australian ports.
  • The average gross tonnage per visit was 54,318 GT compared to 52,775 GT in 2019.
  • The average age of ships in 2020 was 11 years, compared to 10 years old in both 2019 and 2018.

10-year summary of inspection, detentions and deficiency rate

Total inspections3002317933423742405036753128292232223021
Total detentions275210233269242246165161163178
Detention %

Deficiencies per


Snapshot comparison to previous year

  20192020When compared to 2019
ArrivalsTotal arrivals2858426179-8.4%(a decrease of 2405)
Individual ships which made those arrivals598160811.7%(an increase of 100)
Ships eligible for PSC inspection58225877



(an increase of 55)



Total PSC inspections32223021-6.2%(a decrease of 201)
Total PSC inspections - by individual ships28232764-2.1%(a decrease of 59)
Inspection rate of eligible ships %48.5%47%-1.5%(a decrease of 1.5%)
Total deficiencies5281638720.9%(an increase of 1106)
DeficienciesTotal detainable deficiencies21827023.9%(an increase of 52)
Rate of deficiencies per inspection1.62.10.5(an increase of 0.5)
DetentionsTotal detentions1631789.2%(an increase of 15)
Detentions as a % of total inspections5.1%5.9%0.8%(an increase of 0.8%)

Key points

  • In 2020, the number of foreign-flagged ship arrivals decreased by 2405 (8.4 per cent) to 26,179. The number of arrivals by individual ships increased by 100 to 6081 (up 1.7 per cent).
  • The number of initial PSC inspections conducted during 2020 decreased by 201 (6.2 per cent) to 3021.
  • The overall number of deficiencies increased to 6387 in 2020, compared to 5281 in 2019.
  • The average number of deficiencies per inspection increased to 2.1 in 2020, compared to 1.6 in 2019.
  • The number of detainable deficiencies increased to 270 in 2020, compared to 218 in 2019. The largest contributor to this was ISM detainable deficiencies increasing to 76 in 2020, compared to 52 in 2019.
  • The number of detained ships increased to 178 in 2020, compared to 163 in 2019. The detention per inspection rate also increased to 5.9 per cent in 2020, compared to 5.1 per cent in 2019.

The deficiencies per inspection remained relatively low in 2020, with only 2018 and 2019 having lower deficiency rates since AMSA first published its annual PSC reports in 1991. The quality of ships coming to Australia continues to be of a high standard. 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 initial PSC inspections by flag State 2020

There were 3021 foreign-flagged ships inspected in 2020.

The top five flag States accounted for 70% of all inspections.

Flag State (number of inspections)
Panama (703) 23.3%
Liberia (399) 13.2%
Marshall Islands (397) 13.1%
Hong Kong (330) 10.9%
Singapore (295) 9.8%

Top five detention rates by flag State 2020

There were a total of 178 foreign-flag ships detained in 2020.

The average detention rate for all ships was 5.9%.

Flag State (Detention Rate %)
1. Denmark – 16.7%
2. Antigua and Barbuda – 10.8%
3. Taiwan, China – 10.0%
4. Norway – 9.1%
5. Netherlands – 8.7%

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

Trends for 2020

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 2020 the number of ISM detainable deficiencies increased to 76 (occurring in 2.5% of PSC inspections) compared to 52 in 2019 (occurring in 1.6% of PSC inspections). The rate of structural and equipment deficiencies per inspection increased to 1.1 in 2020 from 0.9 in 2019. This highlights an increase in maintenance issues that are not being addressed by the ships SMS as implemented onboard. This is likely to be related to a combination of factors including:

  • An increase in the average age of ships visiting Australia, which increased from 10 years in 2019, to 11 years in 2020.
  • Difficulties, as reported by operators, with conducting shore-based maintenance due to COVID-19 restrictions. Operators also reported difficulty in superintendents being able to visit their ships due to COVID-19 restrictions, which affected their ability to conduct on-board audits of the SMS.
  • A decrease in investment by Operators to effectively maintain ships due to an economic downturn in industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fire safety (13.7 per cent), life-saving appliances (13.7 per cent) and emergency systems (13.0 per cent) again appeared in the top five categories of detainable deficiencies. These three categories have been in the top five since 2014.

Pollution prevention related detainable deficiencies dropped out of the top five categories for detention, despite the introduction of the sulphur cap which came into effect through MARPOL ANNEX VI on 1 January 2020. To assist industry ahead of the introduction of the sulphur cap, AMSA issued two marine notices in 2019, MN2019/04 (Implementation of the 1 January 2020 low sulphur fuel requirement) and MN2019/05 (Requirements for the use of Exhaust Gas Cleaning Systems in Australian Waters and reporting to AMSA) outlining AMSA’s expectations and approach to compliance in this space.

Watertight and weathertight deficiencies moved into the top five detainable deficiencies (8.1 percent) coinciding with the increase in SMS maintenance issues mentioned above.

Top five detainable deficiencies 2018-2020

ISM – 21.1%ISM – 23.9%ISM – 28.1%
Fire safety – 16.8%Fire safety – 17.4%Fire safety – 13.7%
Emergency systems – 12.5%Emergency systems – 16.5%Lifesaving appliances – 13.7%
Pollution Prevention – 12%Lifesaving appliances – 14.7%Emergency systems – 13.0%
Lifesaving appliances – 11.2%Pollution Prevention – 11.5%Water/Weather-tight – 8.1%

In 2020, AMSA continued its work with flag States and ship owners to increase awareness of factors that may impact on 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 in order to conduct their flag State inspections. More information on this process is available at the flag State administration webpage.

Summary of shipping industry activity 2020

In 2020, iron ore and coal were again the largest bulk exports by value from Australia followed by gas2.

The average gross tonnage of visiting ships increased again in 2020, though the number of port visits decreased.

The main trends in 2020 were:

  • Foreign-flagged ship port visits totalled 26,179 in 2020, a decrease of 8.4 per cent from 2019. The number of individual ships that made these port calls increased slightly to 6081, an increase of 100 (1.7 per cent) compared to 5981 in 2019.
  • Bulk carrier port arrivals (14,337) decreased by 0.6 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019 (14,418) and accounted for 54.8 per cent of foreign-flagged ship port arrivals. Arrivals decreased by 31.9 per cent for oil tankers, 16.7 per cent for vehicle carriers, 15.3% for container ships, 12.6% for general cargo ships and 11.1% for livestock carriers. Arrivals decreased by 35.5% for other ships types, a large proportion of this associated with a reduction in passenger ship arrivals due to COVID-19. Arrivals increased by 6.2 per cent for chemical tankers and 3.2 per cent for gas carriers.
  • Foreign-flagged shipping activity remains geographically disparate between Australian ports. Port Hedland remains the busiest Australian port for foreign ship visits, accounting for 12.1 per cent of arrivals in Australia. The top five ports of Port Hedland, Newcastle, Brisbane, Gladstone and Melbourne accounted for 42.4 per cent of arrivals in Australia.
  • The trend towards an increase in the size of visiting ships continued with the average gross tonnage increasing to 54,318 GT in 2020 compared to 52,775 GT in 2019. The average age of foreign ships arriving in Australian ports increased from 10 years in 2019, to 11 years in 2020.
  • The number of ship visits across all inspection priorities decreased compared to 2019. 75.4 per cent of arrivals were in the lower priority groups of P3 and P4. This is a reflection of the average age of ships arriving in Australia being substantially lower than the world average3.

Table 1—Port visits by priority group

Number of visitsFleet shareNumber of visitsFleet shareNumber of visitsFleet share

* See risk rating 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