Day two of the AMSA Conference in Melbourne got under way on Wednesday, 12 November, with two interesting female presenters talking about AMSA’s innovation in technology (I highlight as most of day one was males).

Christine Macmillian, manager, Planning & Business Support at AMSA, spoke about meeting our international obligations regarding people in peril on the sea. In the vast waters that Australia manages (53 million sq. kms), there are about 7,000 incidents per year.

Macmillian gave examples of some interesting anecdotes of some of the incidents, most of which do have good outcomes. She was followed on the podium by her AMSA colleague, Jillian Carson-Jackson, manager, Vessel Traffic and Pilotage.

Carson-Jackson was an engaging speaker and talked us through the new technology that’s helping the Authority monitor vessels. She said that there was a constant 6,200 to 7,000 vessels at any time that were being tracked, which resulted in 17 million raw data messages per day. The presentation involved the audience in an education process in understanding all of the various types of vessels. We learned that even though they have such technology, there was still much to be done.

The new Australian vessel monitoring and advisory system - AVMAS – is a more effective use of existing data, but they still have to improve on the 20 percent of what was termed ‘lazy static data’; the lack of information could mean a greater percentage are at risk, but they simply do not have enough detail. Carson-Jackson’s final words were about the goals of her department: “Safe shipping, clean seas and saving lives,” she said.

Damaged ships and legal issues
There were some concurrent sessions, and I followed the session on current hot topics linked to the marine environment where the first speaker was Stuart Hetherington, partner at solicitors Colin Biggers & Paisley, who was talking about the legal perspectives on places of refuge. Stuart is also President of the Committee Maritime International, so he was heavily involved in this issue at a high level.

Hetherington said that damaged ships need a place of safety and that there needed to be a balance between protecting the crew, the vessel, all property and the environment and coastline. He described International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines as being ‘soft law’ and that actions required by Master, salvor and coastal states need to be based on presumption of right to access and reasonableness. It seems that there are still many issues to resolve in the designation of places of refuge.

Chris Smyth was the next presenter. Smyth was representing the Australian Oceans Institute (AOI) which is an environmental think tank, focusing on oceans, including coasts and catchment areas with close links to the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) in New Zealand. Chris also was the Healthy Oceans Campaigner at the Australian Conservation Foundation up until late 2012, where his work focused on the establishment of marine protected areas. He has also worked at Victorian National Parks Association coordinating its campaign for marine national parks in Victoria.

He promoted the idea that sector-based legislation should be all encompassing, so the overall marine plan is brought together. But typically, Smyth came across as anti-anything that was about advancing any initiatives. He also suggested that the shipping industry should be working (presumably with his organisation) to ban the transportation of shark fins -- seemingly forgetting that some shark finning is a legal activity - and consider the future of transporting coal and, at the same time, asking for support for the AOI.

There was a hot spot as after his presentation when Smyth was challenged by AMSA incumbent Chairman Leo Zussino, as he had given specific information on the Port of Gladstone, which was based on Greenpeace concepts that Zussino said were far from the actual facts. Zussino was a previous CEO of the Gladstone Ports Corporation, where he oversaw almost $40 billion of resource industry development so was clearly more informed.

Maritime claims and liability
Nick Gaskell, professor of Maritime and Commercial Law at University of Queensland and Rod Nairn, chief executive, Shipping Australia Limited, discussed their views on the limit of liability of maritime claims. Gaskell made the case for unlimited liability, which was rebutted by Naim specifically with the words, “Unlimited liability will give you no ships -- we don't like it and you can't afford it.”

In a world where it is not unusual for ships to carry 1,900 containers per vessel and $1 billion (EUR 1.25) million cargoes, Rod explained that the theory of unlimited claims would create such an issue that shipping would probably become extinct.

The last speaker of this session was The Hon James Allsop, AO, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, who was bringing the concept of an alternative form of dispute resolution within the maritime sector. He highlighted that there would be federal court changes shortly. He highlighted that the federal court dealt more with civil issues than criminal, but that it’s civil jurisdiction including naval matters, and that there were 47 judges with 13 specialists dealing with shipping and maritime actions. The Chief Justice suggested that as a result of the expertise now at this level, it was possible to collaborate on simpler resolution alternatives, and he encouraged discussion on the subject.