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Australian Maritime Safety Authority

AMSA is a largely self-funded government agency with the charter of enhancing efficiency in the delivery of safety and other services to the Australian maritime industry.

AMSA is responsible for the protection of Australia's marine environment from pollution caused by shipping and related activities through development and implementation of national strategies, policies and regulation including coordination of a national pollution prevention and response capability.

We are all aware of the environmental damage that may occur from spills of harmful substances at sea. Through the media we see graphic images of marine animals covered in oil and damaged and oiled beaches.

Pollutants enter the oceans from various sources creating a major threat to a valuable resource. Runoff from land, shipping operations and accidents all contribute to pollution of the oceans.

The National Plan - Australia's National Plan to Combat Pollution of the Sea by Oil and Other Noxious and Hazardous Substances - is a national integrated Government and industry organisational framework enabling effective response to marine pollution incidents.

The effectiveness of an oil spill response depends upon a number of factors. These include the location, oil type and volume, weather conditions, and the availability of human and physical resources. No single response method will meet all the demands of an oil spill. Some methods for responding to oils spills are:

Laura D'Amato oil pollution cleanup,
Sydney Harbour 1999.

  • Biodegradation - This is the natural process whereby bacteria and other micro-organisms found in the sea break down spilled oil. Biodegradation occurs at different rates depending on the type of oil, the amount of oxygen and nutrients, and temperature levels.
  • Use of dispersants - Chemical dispersal of oil may be used only when all environmental effects have been considered. The effective use of dispersant requires quick decision-making so that oil can be dispersed at sea before it can come ashore.
  • Containment and recovery - Spilled oil is contained and recovered using booms and skimmers. A boom is a mechanical barrier, which generally extends above and below the water. A skimmer is a mechanical device designed to collect spilled oil from the water surface. Skimmers are mainly used when a thick layer of oil is present.

A beach before cleanup

After cleanup - using graders and shoreline
cleanup guidelines to reduce the oil pollution
to an ecologically tolerable level.
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