An employee of the Port Authority of NSW

… was particularly interested in your article on who is the agency for fighting fires and emergency response on Sydney harbour.

I work in marine operations for PANSW which currently has two fire fighting tugs manned 24/7 365 days a year – the ‘Shirley Smith’ in Sydney and the ‘Ted Noffs’ in Botany.  Both tugs were constructed to comply with the Australian Standard for FFSV.  In case of fire and emergency in Port Botany and Sydney we are the lead agency but take direction from the Fire Brigade for fires once they are on board.

The harbour master of the PANSW is planning to change the role of the FFSV.  These tugs are aging and he wants to replace them. The harbour master is currently negotiating with a commercial tug company to take over the primary role of fire fighting and emergency towage with their vessels by making their tugs captive with a minimum one hour call out time

This will take away the role of PANSW as the primary agency in all emergency plans and leave the PANSW employees without a role that they were trained to do.  The tugs are international standard for fire fighting not Australian standard and do not carry the required amount of foam on board.

Is there any advice you can give as to the legality of such a proposed move?

Is there any legal action that could be taken to stop these plans taking effect?

I can’t answer the specific questions asked as that would require much more detail and no doubt access to tender documents and other commercial in confidence material.  I can however provide some brief comments on the claim that ‘This will take away the role of PANSW as the primary agency in all emergency plans.’

Engaging others to provide services, in this case the commercial tug company, doesn’t necessarily ‘take away the role of PANSW as the primary agency in all emergency plans’. The NSW State Emergency Plan defines the combat agency as ‘the agency identified in EMPLAN as the agency primarily responsible for controlling the response to a particular emergency’.  Combat agencies can, and do, call on others to provide services but they remain ‘in control’.  For example, the NSW Rural Fire Service don’t own or fly all of the aircraft they use for aerial firefighting but the fact that they contract with the operators does not mean that the RFS has vacated its role as the combat agency for bushfires.

As I said in my post Combat Agency For Fire On Board A Vessel In Sydney Harbour (July 20, 2015)

… it is the Port Authority of New South Wales that is the combat agency.  They should appoint the Incident Controller who will set the controller’s intent for the response. Fire and Rescue may well take charge of firefighting operations but that doesn’t deny that the Ports Corporation is the combat agency, in the same way that in other emergencies particular agencies have specialised roles but it is the role of the IC to take overall control of the response.

The Port Authority could contract with the commercial tug company to provide fire fighting and tug boat services but that, on it’s own, doesn’t mean that the Authority no longer remains in control of the operation.

As for advice on the legality of the proposed move or any legal action that could be taken to stop these plans taking effect I would advise my correspondent to contact the relevant employees union.