In Australia disposal at sea of platforms, vessels, aircraft and other man-made items is regulated under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981. Therefore, organisations wishing to dispose of such materials at sea will require a sea dumping permit.
Past activities that have gained approval for sea dumping include:
- disposal of decommissioned and surplus marine infrastructure (e.g. disused offshore petroleum production facilities)
- sinking apprehended vessels, (e.g. foreign fishing and suspected illegal entrant vessels), when the vessel is unseaworthy or incapable of being transported to an Australian port
- disposal of apprehended vessels that present a quarantine risk
- disposal of bulky items (e.g. iron, steel, concrete) generated at locations that have no access to other disposal options (e.g. small islands with isolated communities)
- use of ship hulks for live-fire military weapons practice
Permits are necessary to ensure that materials are adequately prepared, dumped at appropriate sites and, that there are no significant adverse impacts on the marine environment or other marine users.
Ideally, sea disposal sites should be located in deep water, far from coastal communities. Sea disposal should not occur in areas frequented by other marine users (e.g. shipping, deep sea trawling).
Dump sites should also be chosen to minimise disturbances to the environment and bio-physical and ecological processes. Particular features to be aware of include migration routes, spawning and breeding areas, seamounts and underwater canyons and trenches, reefs, shoals, cays and islands.
An example of a preferred sea dumping site would be a location with waters at least 2,000 m deep, at least 50 nm from the coast and at least 20 nm from the nearest historic shipwreck, sub-sea cable, pipeline, oil/gas well, reef, seamount, bank or shoal. The site would also be clear of normal shipping routes and active marine fauna migration routes and breeding areas.
Before dumping, any vessel, aircraft or other structure must be cleared of material which may pose an environmental, safety or quarantine risk.
Any material which can be released into the marine environment and lead to environmental contamination must be removed before dumping. This includes pollutants and materials that may float and represent an ingestion or entanglement hazard to marine fauna or impact hazard to vessels.
Due attention must also be given to polluting and buoyant substances that are released as a result of damage to the structure during placement or due to breakdown following long-term immersion.
In some cases, other Commonwealth legislation may need to be considered in parallel with, or may take precedence over, the Sea Dumping Act. E.g. fisheries, customs and quarantine legislation may apply in cases involving apprehended foreign fishing vessels, while the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967 applies to decommissioned petroleum facilities. Sea dumping projects may also require approval under the EPBC Act.
- Disposal of sewage sludge at sea
- Disposal of dredged material at sea
- Disposal of material for the purpose of creating an artificial reef
- Disposal of vessels and platforms or other man-made structures at sea
- Burial at sea
- Disposal of bulky items from small islands into the sea
- Disposal of fish waste at sea
- Application fees
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