Response to Ports Discussion Paper

Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia

Topical Issues

September 2020

Response to Ports Discussion Paper

This response is on behalf of the Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) and Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia (OSSA).

Thank you for the opportunity to make comment on your Ports Discussion Paper. Overall this paper is well presented and extensive in its breadth. We have focused on three areas which we feel need further thought and discussion.

Skills and Training

There is irrefutably a looming shortage in maritime skills arising over the next few years. Evidence of this has been well recognised and at a national level the Census conducted by Maritime Industry Australia Ltd (MIAL) highlights the problem. This is a link to the Census ( but it may be that you will need to register with MIAL to download.

The MIAL Census shows a future shortfall of Australian qualified Deck and Engineer Officers for both seagoing and shore-based occupations and predicts demand for an additional 560 officers and ratings by 2023.This figure may well have increased since COVID.

The Ports Discussion Paper also acknowledges a decline in the skills supply chain and in the availability across a range of Maritime Skills in Australia. Safe and efficient Port Operations relies upon the critical competency interface between shoreside and the vessel. Without necessary skills there can be no safe port operations.

The MIAL Census estimates that by the year 2023, the demand for shore-based seafarers in Australia will increase by nearly 18%  Given the comparative size of Victoria’s shipping consignment, most of this likely rise in demand will occur in Victoria. The critical question arises – where in Victoria will the skills training occur in order to to meet this demand? 

The Ports Discussion Paper (page 41) refers to the shortages or lack of Marine qualifications specifically citing the lack of Senior Maritime Port Safety operatives in Transport Victoria. Again the critical question  arises – How will this clear lack of expertise be overcome?   Will the solution be restructuring, recruitment, additional resourcing or training?

Underlying each of these maritime workforce skills deficit issues and the consequent adverse impact on the development of effective port systems, is both, (1) the ageing demographic of the current skills base, and, (2) the lack of investment in training to upskill  the next generation of seafarers. This task of addressing these issues should not be confined to a commitment by government but must also involve industry stakeholders. all end users.

This skills shortage will definitely impact Victorian Ports.

We  recommend that research be commissioned asap with the objective of accurately identifying;

  1. The projected growth of Victorian port activity.
  2. The range of maritime occupations and skills required to meet that growth. The research should include the range of occupations and skills identified in your discussion paper and others, including stevedores, boat handlers, harbour masters etc.
  3. Deficits or strengths in training provision through local training facilities (ie Lakes Entrance TAFE Seamec, Warrnambool South West TAFE), private registered training providers or a combination of both.

This research would provide credible data upon which to base a skills program to be developed that will raise maritime industry career options for youth and ultimately lead to growth in the skilled maritime workforce.

Developing a long term Port Management Competency Structure for the State should, obviously, include consultation with industry stakeholders including ship operators and/or their representatives (MIAL), officer Unions being the AMOU and AIMPE, the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

It was apparent in the Stakeholder Engagement Appendix that no vessel operators either local or international had any input with the exception of the local Towage Industry.  This is a major and critical omission in the document.

Note : Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd. has prepared a paper titled “Future Training Options for the Australian Maritime Industry” which details the training and other strategic issues highlighted in this response. (

Strategic Risk

Another very serious omission in the Port Discussion Paper concerns Risk!

There is no reference in the Paper to identifying and managing major strategic risk, and, most importantly the maritime skills required to develop the capacity to respond to such risk.  For example –  What would happen should a major catastrophe occur (either natural or terrorism), that would seal off the river Estuary or even more seriously, close the entrance to Port Phillip Bay? Whatever the cause, what would be the impact of blocking access to Melbourne’s main shipping wharves and terminals? Has scenario planning factoring the requisite maritime and other skills and capabilities been conducted?   Catastrophes are a fact of modern life. The risk of such occurrences, no matter how remote the possibility should be addressed. Our waterways are critical infrastructure – and the skills necessary to protect such assets must be considered. The assessment of risk and associated response plans should be developed obviously in collaboration with other local, state and commonwealth authorities. Reference to the consideration of risk is a deficit in the Discussion Paper.


Governance Structure

In relation to governance matters, the Paper discusses the concept of a single State port authority. We agree with this and would argue that it is THE only sensible intelligent way forward. Of the two options put forward,  it is our view that Option 2 “A new Victorian port authority responsible for channels and navigational safety in all commercial port waters” is most suitable.

The establishment of a single authority will certainly address the various points made in the Paper. Further, it would also address strategic risk more effectively by providing  a clear management chain of command in any crisis. As demonstrated in the current Covid19 pandemic, it is critical to have such a management structure in place in preparation for any eventuality.

A single authority such as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is a successful model to consider. Establish a board which is responsible directly to the Minister. The Minister would appoint the Chair. The appointment of other board members would be drawn from industry and government and be recommended by the Chair to the Minister for final determination. Board members would rotate (or be extended) on a 3 year term.

Option 2 also provides a balance between Government and Industry specifically on local land-based Port or water based- issues.

Dr. Jackie Watts OAM


Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network

Ross Brewer


Offshore & Specialist Ships Australia Ltd

Note 1


Note 2

Maritime Industry Australia Limited (MIAL). 2019 Seafaring Skills Census.