Maritime Safety Queensland – 160 years serving Queenslanders

MARITIME Safety Queensland (MSQ) oversees a portfolio of responsibilities unmatched by any of our peers in Australia.

As the sunshine state’s primary maritime safety regulator our mission is to provide safer, cleaner seas for Queensland.

MSQ is responsible for ensuring safety across the whole spectrum of waterborne activity—from the largest ocean-going trading ships to the smallest recreational tinnies and personal watercraft.

MSQ services the shipping and ports communities as well as more than a million recreational marine license holders.

Our ambit includes maritime safety for both trade shipping and recreational boating as well as ship-sourced pollution and infrastructure provision. This means our workforce has a wide range of skills, knowledge and vocations.

The sheer size of Queensland and its decentralised population, comparative to most other states, requires us to have a presence across a vast coastline fronting the Pacific Ocean, the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

That coastline is dotted with islands of varying sizes and populations, and all the coral cays and atolls associated with the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

For good measure MSQ also covers a myriad of inland waterways stretching to the New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory borders.

MSQ delivers the classic regulator functions of developing and reviewing legislation, setting standards and ensuring compliance. However, we also provide a diverse range of services and infrastructure not usually found side by side.

Our stakeholders include the shipping and ports communities, that provide the lifeblood of our economy, and the operators and crew of the largest recreational vessel fleet in the country.

Improving maritime safety for all vessels

To enable us to achieve our objectives, we maintain five regional offices headed by Regional Harbour Masters. These are centred at Brisbane (Pinkenba), Gladstone, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.

Each regional office maintains further ‘sub-offices’ and operations bases in maritime activity hubs such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay (Urangan), Airlie Beach and Thursday Island. There is no shortage of attractively located workplaces in MSQ!

From our regional bases we provide Vessel Traffic Services, install and maintain aids to navigation, conduct boating safety education and boating regulation enforcement, and respond to instances of marine pollution.

We also operate the Smartship Australia facility in the Brisbane Airport precinct.  Now into its second decade of operation, this state-of-the-art training facility draws clients including pilot organisations and shipping and towage companies from around Australia, the South Pacific and Southeast Asia to train on its simulators, guided by internationally renowned instructors to gain qualifications or for continuous professional development.

Smartship Australia is also used extensively for port development because of its expertise in modelling port infrastructure (both existing and future) and testing operational limits.

MSQ’s Maritime Enforcement Team at the Gold Coast

MSQ’s Maritime Enforcement Team at the Gold Coast

At the smaller vessel end of the vessel spectrum we engage with a recreational boating community that now numbers over a million license holders. We inform and consult them on maritime safety and pollution regulations, set and monitor their licensing standards under our BoatSafe program and establish regulatory controls such as speed limits and exclusion zones to better manage the impacts of vessel traffic on our waterways.

We also encourage and, where necessary, enforce compliance with boating regulations and provide services such as maps and charts to help boaties do so.

Our Marine Officers regularly attend boat shows, events and popular boat launching facilities, rubbing shoulders with the boating public to raise awareness about their safety obligations and ways of complying.

We equip our Marine Officers with a range of workboats and compliance vessels, including high-speed rigid hull inflatable boats and personal watercraft. The latter are used by a specially-trained and highly mobile Maritime Enforcement Team – nine officers who target known trouble spots on our waterways to reduce unsafe behaviours.  

Preventing or responding to ship-sourced marine pollution

MSQ invests in and maintains considerable resources to either prevent ship-sourced pollution or respond to it where it does occur.

Rigorous licensing standards and training for marine pilots, combined with a compulsory pilotage regime for ships transiting the Inner Route of the Great Barrier Reef and our trading ports, combined with our ever-vigilant VTS Centres including REEFVTS, are our first and second layers of mitigation against the risk of shipping incidents.

But if an incident happens regardless, MSQ stays well prepared.  For this we purchase and maintain a fleet of pollution response vessels and a large stockpile of other plant and equipment to respond at short notice. 

We have a team that trains personnel from within MSQ and other government agencies, and the private sector, who either have a duty to assist in major pollution incidents or can be called upon if need be.  We work ceaselessly to ensure Queensland is ready, on a 24/7 basis, 365 days a year, to respond to any shipping incident that threatens to pollute the Queensland coast or Great Barrier Reef.

While it’s important to impart skills and knowledge to personnel who may need to be involved in a response, we know that skills and knowledge can atrophy over time if not used. 

In recognition of this, we conduct simulated response exercises annually, drawing upon the experience gained from coordinating multi-agency responses to incidents such as the Pacific Adventurer oil spill in 2009, the grounding of the Shen Neng 1 on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010, and natural disasters such as floods and cyclones.

Waging war on derelict vessels

In July 2018 the Queensland Government announced a $20 million, four-year program to tackle a growing environmental menace affecting our waterways, beaches and mangroves—unseaworthy or abandoned wrecks left by their owners to decay, endanger other vessels and pollute the marine environment.

Removing abandoned wrecks and protecting our environment—the removal of “Commissioner” from mangroves in the Girramay National Park, north Queensland

Removing abandoned wrecks and protecting our environment—the removal of “Commissioner” from mangroves in the Girramay National Park, north Queensland

The program was titled the “War on Wrecks” and a taskforce of government and industry representatives was formed, assisted by MSQ, to identify, remediate or remove existing wrecks while identifying causes and potential cures for the problem.     

After four years the program proved so successful the government extended it for another three years, up to June 2025, with a further $15 million of funding.

Resulting from MSQ’s negotiation with owners and our direct intervention where necessary, more than 1,200 wrecks had been removed or remediated by the end of August 2023, leaving Queensland’s waterways and marine environment much safer and cleaner.

That work continues, with more than 450 wrecks still to resolve. Meanwhile, our policy work to progress recommendations made in the taskforce’s 2019 interim report continues as we seek to lay foundations for a more responsible boat ownership culture in the future.

Providing safe and equitable access to the waterways

Getting vessels onto the water and keeping them moving safely requires infrastructure such as boat launching facilities, dredged channels and a myriad of aids to navigation.  In Queensland, MSQ is a leading player in this.

The newly-constructed facility at Yorkeys Knob

The newly-constructed facility at Yorkeys Knob

We build and own boat ramps, floating walkways and pontoons for launching and retrieving boats across the state in partnership with local government and port/water authorities, who usually assume day-to-day management responsibilities for them.

We employ a team of marine engineers and planners who regularly consult with local governments and communities to deliver a Maritime Infrastructure and Investment Program averaging around $30 million annually.

MSQ also manages ten state boat harbours.  These are roughly one day’s sailing apart and provide shelter and facilities for vessels as far north as Bowen. They are maritime commercial and communal hubs driving tourism and generating jobs.

Helping to survey and maintain dredged channels to provide safe access to these and other harbours and waterways, including Queensland’s ports, is our team of hydrographic surveyors and their survey vessel the QG Norfolk.

We also calculate and promulgate precise tidal information for the whole of the Queensland coast that serves everyone from the masters of the largest bulkers, calculating their dynamic under-keel clearance, right through to the skippers of the smallest tinnies planning their fishing trips. 

Encouraging and supporting innovation in the maritime industry

Society, technology and industry constantly evolve. Government must recognise this, adapt itself where necessary, and encourage and support innovation where it can.

As an example, MSQ is administering a $21 million grants program titled “Backing Queensland Maritime Jobs”. This program aims to revitalise Queensland’s maritime sector by stimulating investment in maritime businesses, skills and jobs.

Backing up all of our functions and services is a cohort of dedicated policy, communications, and administrative staff, spread across our Brisbane CBD and regional offices.  Their tasks are myriad, ranging from developing policy and legislation, providing educative and public consultation materials, running procurement processes and supporting project governance – the “behind the scenes” work that is largely unseen by the public and never garners headlines, but makes possible all of that which does.

A proud record

In one form or another, MSQ has been watching over Queensland’s maritime sector since 1862, when Captain George Poynter Heath was appointed Queensland’s first Portmaster and the Marine Board of Queensland was established.

We’ve recorded 160 years of service to the Queensland community and a hard-earned reputation for excellence in providing it.

It’s a reputation we are proud of and intend to keep as we continue striving for safer, cleaner seas for Queensland.