Each year the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) joins with a host state or the Northern Territory to practice implementing national oil spill response arrangements by simulating a significant oil spill scenario in a nominated area. These exercises are a key training opportunity for National Response Team members, and other trained and/or skilled personnel who are likely to be called upon to assist in the event of a real oil spill.
This year, Tasmania hosted Exercise Thalassarche which ran between 14-16 November 2023 in Hobart and the D'Entrecasteaux Channel region. Around 200 participants were involved, including those playing response roles, plus expert exercise mentors, evaluators, and control personnel. Participants included NRT members and other marine pollution response specialists from around Australia and from overseas, along with a strong Tasmanian contingent drawn from the EPA, TasPorts, NRE Tas, DPFEM and other agencies.
Highlights and key aspects of the exercise included the Forward Operating Base and wildlife Primary Care Facility established at Dru Point. The exercise provided an opportunity to test NRE's draft WildPlan, for responding to oiled wildlife events. Participants also found the opportunity to engage with wildlife rehabilitation experts who shared their knowledge and provided hands-on instructions on caring for oiled wildlife, invaluable. The Marine Team operating from Hobart executed some technically complex manoeuvres on water, demonstrating the value of training as a team. Shoreline teams were occupied with finding, assessing and managing simulated oiled beaches. A large Incident Management Team (70 plus staff) operating from the State Emergency Services Operations Centre in Hobart were tested with various injects, and used a newly established SharePoint site for managing the incident. Notably, Aboriginal Cultural Advisors were on hand to provide invaluable insights to the IMT and in the field.
The EPA, together with AMSA and TasPorts thanks all participants. The exercise was an excellent opportunity for participants to undertake best practice incident management, field-based activities, and work together, as they would in a real-life incident.
Participant surveys and other feedback indicate the exercise was executed to a high standard. In early 2024, AMSA, the EPA, TasPorts and other important partners such as NRE Tas, will be analysing feedback to identify key learnings to help improve our marine pollution response capability.
While the likelihood of a large marine pollution incident is low in Tasmania, the results can be catastrophic, with impacts across environment, human/social, economic, transport and infrastructure dimensions. Therefore, it is critical to be prepared.
Further information about the EPA's response arrangements in the event of a spill into the Tasmanian marine environment can be found at Tasmanian Marine Oil Spill Contingency Plan (TasPlan).