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Major oil spill exercise conducted at CQU Gladstone

Published:20 June 2022

CMERC Director Dr Emma Jackson holds a realistic but toy seagull that was used as part of the training exercise

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) has been leading a real-time, multi-agency, pollution response exercise in Gladstone, including parts of the CQU Gladstone campus this week.

MSQ General Manager Kell Dillon said the Queensland Government, acting through MSQ, was responsible for dealing with ship-sourced pollution with the potential to impact coastal waters.

"As part of this responsibility, MSQ has been rehearsing the deployment of its oil spill response arrangements in conjunction with other agencies, both state and federal," Mr Dillon said.

"MSQ has been coordinating Exercise Cabin in its lead agency role in cooperation with the Department of Environment and Science, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Gladstone Ports Corporation, Gladstone Regional Council, Traditional Owners and others.

"Responders from all functional areas have had the opportunity to practise their emergency deployment roles in real time and real environments during the three-day exercise.

"In situations where time is of the essence, the interaction and coordination between all key stakeholders is the key to success.

"Protecting the World Heritage-listed reef is a government priority and Exercise Cabin is all about being highly prepared for an adverse event."

Mr Dillon said more than 11 000 commercial vessels travelled inside the reef each year.

"This type of exercise is essential to make sure we are ready to make an immediate and robust response in the event of a real, ship-sourced oil spill," he said.

"Gladstone, with about 150 ship movements a month, is a high-traffic, multi-commodity port that is vital to Queensland's economy.

"As well as its economic value, it is located close to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and fringed by pristine islands and beaches that are important for recreation and tourism.

"An oil spill in the port would pose a threat to marine flora and fauna, potentially interrupt coal and gas supply chains and adversely affect tourism and recreation.

"While we have many proven risk mitigations in place to prevent such an occurrence, exercises such as Cabin enable us, while striving for the best, to prepare for the worst."

Mr Dillon said MSQ usually held pollution response exercises annually, but restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic had made it difficult to practice a full multi-agency response for the past two years.

"That makes Exercise Cabin all the more important for all agencies involved, now that pandemic restrictions have eased," he said.

Some of the activities have also taken place at CQUniversity’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) facility.

CMERC Director Emma Jackson said the exercise has provided a great community engagement learning opportunity for all involved.

"This is the second time CMERC has hosted part of this training program, because emergency response is of such critical importance to protecting coastal and marine ecosystems up and down the Queensland coast, as well as the local communities that depend on coastal harbours for industry and tourism,” Dr Jackson said.