All single-hulled oil tankers visiting Australian ports will be subject to increased inspections, under new measures to protect the marine environment announced today.
The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson, said further protection would come through the introduction of legislation to increase the amount of compensation following an oil spill to $480 million.
Anderson said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has upgraded its inspection regime after the sinking of the Prestige off Spain and the European Commission's subsequent crackdown on certain vessels.
Anderson said AMSA's target inspection rate would move from 50 percent for single-hulled tankers built since 1987 and 80 percent for single-hulled tankers more than 15 years old to a blanket 100 percent rate.
"This will mean Australia's inspection regime, already one of the toughest in the world, will become even tougher," Anderson said.
Anderson said this strengthening of AMSA's current Port State Control inspection regime is consistent with actions being considered by the European Commission, which has previously had a less strict inspection regime.
"The EC's actions have raised worldwide concerns that aged single-hull tankers will be forced out of Europe to trade in alternative markets, including our region.
"AMSA will continue to closely monitor tanker operations in our waters and if warranted further strengthening of our Port State Control regime will be introduced."
Meanwhile, greater compensation for those suffering the potentially devastating effects of an oil spill from a tanker will be available under new legislation introduced by the Federal Government.
The legislation increases the maximum amount of compensation payable from $320 million to $480 million.
"Oil spills have a devastating effect on marine life and local communities. The increased amount allows for more compensation for pollution damage, as well as to refund costs incurred in preventing or minimising the effects of an oil spill.
"While the Opposition continues to make false claims about unsafe ships coming to Australia, the Government is taking positive steps to ensure that, in the unlikely event of a major oil pollution
incident, adequate compensation arrangements are in place.
"Fortunately Australia has been spared from disastrous oil spills such as that resulting from the breaking up of the Prestige off the Spanish coast last month. The rigorous ship inspection program conducted by AMSA helps ensure that sub-standard ships do not trade with Australia.
"If there is an oil spill or any other pollution incident in Australian waters, a robust contingency plan is in place to minimise its effects."
Compensation for oil spills is payed through ship insurance companies
. Where needed, compensation payments are topped up through a fund contributed to by organisations receiving oil by sea.
The increased compensation limits - contained in the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 - will apply from November 1, 2003, the date on which amendments to the applicable International Maritime Organization conventions enter into force internationally.