Scientists have warned that new maritime laws governing the operation of commercial vessels could have the unintended consequence of making science research using small boats more difficult.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is poised to assume national responsibility for commercial vessel safety in Australian waters from the beginning of 2013.
While the modernisation of standards for commercial boating under a national regulator has been widely welcomed, there are growing concerns that the changes could leave scientists that operate small vessels inland, stranded.
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Under the new arrangements, the minimum certification to operate small vessels for inland waters will be changed from a general boat licence to a limited coxswain.
Staff Association Section Councillor and Experimental Scientist from CSIRO Land and Water (CLW), Janet Anstee, said that the new category of limited coxswain requires 200 hours of sea service.
“Nobody’s against changes to improve safety but having to log 200 hours before you can take out the tinnie in protected waters is excessive.”
Ms Anstee said that researchers in CLW have told her that “these new regulations fail to distinguish between working 12 miles off shore and working on a local coastal creek or inland river ten metres wide,” she said.
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The Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSciA) – the country’s largest professional association of marine scientists – also weighed in on the small boats issue.
In a submission to AMSA, the marine scientists described the coxswain competency requirement in the context of small boat operations as “overly arduous, lacking relevance and archaic.”
“We strongly advocate for a sensible approach to training pathways and sea time provisions which are scaled to the risks involved and standard experiences for our members,” AMSciA said.
Ms Anstee said that the level of planning within CSIRO ahead of the changes appeared uneven.
“There’s a range of awareness about the changes that varies across the organisation according to location and division.
“Some divisions are already working with staff to address compliance issues with the new rules. Others appear utterly unprepared for change.
“Queensland will be forced to make these changes ahead of the other states and territories, so it will be different there too, she said.
“The impact on research – especially long term monitoring programs – could be profound,” Ms Anstee said.
“Enforcement of the new regulations could increase research costs dramatically should CSIRO decide to pursue external hiring of vessels and crew, for example.”
Ms Anstee said it was important that staff who were already or likely to be affected by the changes contact the Staff Association and share their experience and concerns.
“The Staff Association plans to take up the issue but we need the help of members by making comments and suggestions.
“This will help us make the case to the Chief Executive and the Chief Scientist to lobby AMSA for a practical solution.
“We’ll also be asking questions about the consultation process across the whole organisation at the next meeting of CSIRO Consultative Council in December.”
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