Modernising vessel biosecurity clearance
Paperless. Efficient. Transparent.
Biosecurity reporting obligations
Pre-arrival information, and changes, for maritime conveyances (vessels) must be reported in a method approved by the Director of Biosecurity, which is MARS. Electronic offline forms can be used where there is limited connectivity, but they do not constitute the approved form. Your reporting obligations are met once your information has been submitted in MARS.
Vessel Operator Responsibilities: The operator of the vessel is obligated to accurately report information in accordance with Section 193 of the
Biosecurity Act 2015. This information must be lodged in MARS no later than 12 hours prior to arrival.
Shipping Agent Responsibilities: Where the vessel operator uses a shipping agent, the agent is responsible for lodgement of accurate and timely information into MARS. The agent must ensure that this information is a true and correct representation of the reports provided by the vessel operator, and that any changes have been confirmed with the operator.
Any changes in circumstances during the voyage in Australian waters must be reported to the department as soon as practicable.
What is MARS?
MARS is an online web portal to be used by
commercial vessel masters and shipping agents to submit pre-arrival documents required of all international vessels seeking Australian biosecurity clearance. MARS has functionality to view information related to the status of your vessel.
What vessel types need to use MARS?
- General Cargo
- Break bulk
- Heavy lift
- Livestock carriers
- Government and Military
A key policy initiative developed in conjunction with MARS
Vessel Compliance Scheme (VCS) has been developed to provide greater transparency of what biosecurity officers look for when they board a vessel and the consequence of non-compliance with Australia’s biosecurity obligations.
- The scheme objective drives informed compliance from masters and vessel operators by ensuring they understand department requirements and are incentivised to comply.
- MARS provides the platform for VCS, building on current department compliance measures.
The following diagram identifies the overarching function of MARS and its users:
As a client, you now have a single source of information for biosecurity directions and advice for each voyage. This is the Biosecurity Status Document (BSD).
The BSD is auto generated in MARS and is version controlled to reflect any reported changes to directions or status occurring during a voyage. It uses a traffic light system as a visual cue to alert the user regarding the vessel status and any associated directions or advice issued by the department.
The department's information such as berthing conditions, pratique, ballast water, non-first point of entry and treatment directions will be available on each BSD.
BSD documents are emailed to the master and agent and available in MARS. The documents are versioned to reflect any changes to conditions or status throughout a voyage.
Here is a sample BSD.
MARS offline forms and communication and training materials
A range of Industry support tools are available at:
MARS frequently asked questions
Vessel masters and agents (users) access MARS through a website known as the application ‘portal’. The key capabilities of this online application system include:
- Online submission for pre-arrival reports.
- The ability to establish and maintain a user profile. For new vessel entries the system will automatically create a vessel ‘profile’ from the information received in the pre-arrival reports. For subsequent pre-arrival reports, the system will pre-fill relevant fields.
- The ability to ‘clone’ a ballast water report.
- The ability to request additional services for crew change, Ship Sanitation Certificate inspections and coastal strip.
- Biosecurity Status Document (BSD) will be automatically emailed from the department once pre-arrival reports are processed and when any changes have been submitted by the master or agent.
- The ability for masters and agents to:
- Nominate agents (Port Agent, Billing Agent, Crew Agent) for a particular voyage.
- View a summary of invoices, including charges and payment status for each invoice.
- Print copies of the directions and certificates issued by the department.
MARS is a secure environment and accessible only through registration, a User ID and password provided by the department.
MARS IT requirements
You do not need any special hardware or software to use MARS. The system is optimised for the following browsers:
9, 10, 11
Safari and Safari (iOS)
- For Internet Explorer only Native mode is supported. View Compatibility mode and Enterprise mode must be disabled. ActiveX must be enabled.
- Stylesheets must be enabled
- XMLHTTP support must be enabled
- For optimal accessibility with Screen reader assistive technology, using the most recent version of the browser is recommended.
For optimal accessibility with Screen reader assistive technology, using the most recent version of the browser is recommended.
If the vessel master submits a Pre-arrival Arrival Report (PAR), will the shipping agent be able to make amendments on behalf of the master? e.g. agents name incorrect, SSC issue date incorrect
Prior to lodgement of pre-arrival reports in MARS, amendments can be made as part of the arrangements between a master and an agent. Once pre-arrival reports have been submitted, only the party (agent or master) that lodged the information would be able to make amendments through resubmitting the pre-arrival reports.
All agents nominated as a billing party are notified to enable the agent to dispute and advise the department of the right agent.
Can cruise ships request approval for port visits one or two years ahead for both first points of entry and non-first points of entry?
Yes. Applications to enter a non-first point of entry (NFP) must be submitted in MARS and will be accepted one to two years ahead of the anticipated arrival. The management of cruise vessels should be reported using MARS with the Maritime Travellers Passengers Committee (MTPC) providing approvals. From the initial application, you will receive the following response from MARS on the Biosecurity Status Document (BSD):
For Cruise Vessel Applications Only
Please note this is a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources s247 conditional approval only, pending Maritime Travellers Processing Committee (MTPC) approval document.
Vessel operators/Masters must still have and provide both the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Biosecurity Status Document (BSD) and the MTPC approval document on request.
Does the master/agent have the ability to lodge subsequent port reporting obligations in MARS?
A Ballast Water Report can be submitted up to 14 days prior to a vessel arrival. As this is prior to the 96-12 hour pre-arrival reporting window, how will these forms be submitted?
In MARS, the agent will be able to submit the ballast water information separate to the PAR. The voyage number MUST match the ballast water information with the PAR when it is received.
What is the MARS voyage number?
In MARS, the voyage number is the unique identifier.
- It is essential that you use the correct voyage number, as MARS uses this to link information such as the PAR, ballast water and non-first point of entry reports.
- MARS only accepts alphanumeric characters (letters A -Z and numbers 0 -9). No spaces or other characters accepted.
Will Ship Sanitation Certificates (SSC) be issued electronically and emailed or will a hard copy still be issued?
Ship Sanitation Certificates will be issued electronically. The agent/master will have the ability to print the electronic copy available in the system.
Is it mandatory for agents/masters to upload certificates such as Ship Sanitation Certificate (SSC) and Asian Gypsy Moth (AGM) documentation?
No - this is optional. Biosecurity officers may ask to see original documents as part of the vessel inspection.
If there is a request for service, for example crew change, submitted via MARS and the department cannot provide that service, how is it communicated that the service will not happen?
This is communicated to the agent via email. There is information specific to crew change from the Vessels webpages.
How will the results of the analysis of a Ballast Water Report be communicated to the master?
Ballast Water information is communicated via Biosecurity Status Document (BSD) which will be sent electronically to vessel master and/or nominated agents.
Communication between the department and our stakeholders
Will MARS create less direct contact with the department and would this affect services and relationships with industry?
The development of the MARS is a direct result of increased collaboration with our clients and has the common benefit of reducing administrative burden for both industry and the department. It will not reduce the requirement for departmental officers to consult with industry on shipping matters and managing biosecurity risks.
Access and security
What if masters have limited internet or email access and cannot directly input information to MARS?
The department will continue to provide ‘offline forms’ where masters have limited and/or unreliable internet access. The following options will be available for vessel masters/agents:
- Masters with internet access submit pre-arrival information using the MARS online web portal.
- Masters with email but no internet access complete an offline form that has been provided by an agent and then email the xml data file back to the agent. The agent then loads this data file into MARS.
- Masters with no email or no internet access complete the forms provided to them by an agent and return them to the agent. The agent then manually enters this data into MARS.
Is it necessary to maintain a constant internet connection to complete an electronic form?
MARS will have some tolerance for session drop-outs. Alternatively, ‘offline forms’ could be used to complete pre-arrival information in an offline mode (no internet connection required). The ‘xml’ file can be uploaded via MARS portal as noted in the options above.
Many vessels do not have the capability of adding attachments to emails and therefore they will not be able to self submit or send to the agent a ‘smart form’. What happens in this scenario?
The master can submit the information to the agency through manual means. Refer to the options provided for vessels with limited and/or unreliable internet connectivity. It is the responsibility of the agent to provide the BSD and any certificates to the vessel. Failure to follow directions on the BSD, may result in demerit actions against the vessel.
Invoicing and revenue
How is an agent or billing party identified for invoicing arrangements through MARS? Is this connected to an ABN number?
A URN (Unique Registration Number) is a client identifier in the department's financial system. It is generally based on a region/city. Large companies may have different URN numbers for different regions. ABN numbers are recorded, but will not necessarily have a one to one match with the department’s financial management system’s URN number.
If an agent for a vessel attends three ports during a voyage, will the agent in one location be able to view the invoices created for services at other locations?
An agency will be able to see all financial transactions across their agency. Therefore, if the same agency performs business in three ports they will be able to view relevant details, including details of invoices. Different agencies will not be able to see information for other agencies.
When will invoices be sent?
The trigger for invoices is the actual port departure date for a vessel. The departure date is taken from the information made available to the department such as the Pre- Arrival Report (PAR); and the system will default to this date. Agents have the ability to nominate or change an invoice date, in consultation with the department. The features of billing information includes:
- There is a single invoice per visit, per port.
- The vessel operator or agent supplies the billing information during the lodgment of pre-arrival information and/or a service request.
- Users can view a summary of invoices, including charges and payment status for each invoice.
- Invoices are triggered within 24 hours of a vessel departing from a port.
- The choice of specific agency setup structure can be tailored, depending on your individual business needs.
Implementation planning and training
Will there be formal training available for agents?
Support will be provided in many ways. This will include direct support for agencies from departmental staff in their location. Agencies will support masters through this implementation phase.
The Maritime National Coordination Centre (MNCC) is also a key point of contact for using MARS. Any technical questions about MARS and registration questions should be directed to the MNCC.
- Australia’s Biosecurity Checklist for Commercial Vessels
- Vessel Compliance Scheme (VCS) for Commercial Maritime Vessels poster
- MARS Quick Reference Guides and FAQs
- MARS User Guides
- Biosecurity Clearance of Vessels and MARS online eLearning
- Pest Alert! Do you have stowaways on board brochure
All merchant vessels are required to have the Australian Seafarers Handbook on board for reference. When will the current biosecurity information be updated to reflect the MARS changes?
The department will review all external publications to align with MARS as part of the implementation stage.
Lessons learnt from MARS rollout and tips for agents
Advice to industry
Duplicate voyage numbers
- To date the MNCC have been requested to withdraw duplicate voyages (1 or more) for 27 vessels
- Duplicate voyages are mistakenly created by the vessel officer. It may be a result of the Master completing the PAR and the Chief Officer completing the BW report with a slight variation in the number (e.g Voyage 056 and Voyage 56)
- Agent needs to check and if necessary, correct voyage number before submitting the application
- If not picked up at time of submission, an email needs to be sent to the MNCC with the voyage number(s) that needs to be withdrawn
- Multiple submissions of the PAR to different voyage #s results in more than one (1) arrival levy being charged
Masters not clicking “Send to Agency” button on offline form
- Masters are not clicking the “Send to Agency” button on the offline form and are sending the PDF to agents or non-validated xml data
- The agent receives incomplete applications and has to go back to the Master to get more information
- The “Save XML” button has been removed from the next version of the smart form so this problem will be partially resolved
- Advise Masters to click the “Send to Agency” button at the end of the application as this validates the form and will advise of any missing fields or errors that need to be corrected before it is sent to the agent
PDF form looks complete but application in MARS is missing information
- When the XML is uploaded in MARS, some information is missing from the tank details (eg coordinates) however the PDF looks complete
- It is likely the file has been corrupted
- If data is missing when the application is uploaded in MARS, the agent can retrieve the missing information from the PDF and then enter it MARS
- Advise Master not to cut and paste details into the PDF form as this can corrupt the file
Master fails to record pump details
- The Master does not know how to record the pumps used especially if multiple pumps have to be selected
- In one case, the Master chose the number of pumps used instead of the names of the pumps used (ie had used 2 pumps so chose “Pump 2” instead of selecting “Pump 1”and “Pump 2” – this resulted in insufficient flow through exchange)
- Refer to Vessel Master User Guide (from pg 125) which explains how to select pump details
Master has difficulties completing the offline form and sends PDF to agent
- The Master does not understand the error messages generated when the “Send to Agency” button is clicked
- Refer to Vessel Master User Guide (from pg 125)
- Check if the Master knows how to select the pump names – if the pumps have been selected, they will appear highlighted in blue in the Tank Information tab. As the PDF does not save pump capacity the agent will have to reselect them and click on the field below to populate the pump capacity.
- The agent must then click the “Send to Agency” button to see if it generates an error message. They can then give the Master specific details on what needs to be corrected.
Note, if there are multiple errors/omissions with the offline form, it won’t be highlighted in the one error message. The field will have to be corrected and the “Send to Agency” button clicked again to see the next error message.
Master has difficulties completing the offline form and sends incomplete XML to agent
- The Master does not understand the error messages generated when the “Send to Agency” button is clicked but saves the XML and sends the incomplete application to the agent
- This shouldn’t be a problem if the new version of the offline forms is used (can’t save incomplete application as XML)
- The agent uploads the XML in MARS and works through the tabs to identify any information that needs to be retrieved from the Master
- When the agent goes to the “Submit” tab, if there are any problems with the tank details, they will get a generic error message for the problem tank(s)
- The agent then needs to go back to the “Tank Information” tab and click on the specific tank name to open the tank details. They must then click the “Next” or “Save” button. The system will then highlight to them what information is missing or needs to be corrected.
- This will enable the agent to go back to the Master with specific details on what is missing or needs to be corrected on the application
Master has difficulty completing Q1 on the BW Report
- Q1 on the BW Report asks if the vessel has an approved Ballast Water Management Certificate on board. There must be many variations of this certificate and some do not have an expiry date. Because expiry date is a mandatory field for this question, they are unable to complete and submit the BW report.
- Refer to Vessel Master User Guide (from pg 125)
- BW Management Certificates are not mandatory at this stage
- If the vessel does not have the relevant certificate (ie one with the expiry date), they can answer N/A to this question.
Masters are sending the XML to the MNCC
- Masters are sending the XML “To” the MNCC. Generally the agent is cc’d. This is force of habit.
- This can lead to an assumption that the MNCC will do something with the XML because it has been sent “To” the MNCC however it is up to the agent to upload the data in MARS.
- When the “Send to Agency” button is hit, an email is generated. The Master must type the agency email address in the “To” line.
- The MNCC does not need to be sent this email or even cc’d.
Masters don’t know how to record flow through exchange conducted over multiple time periods
- Refer to QRG14 – Tips for Vessel Masters: How to complete the Ballast Water Report Offline Form
Masters don’t know how to record internal transfer on BW report
- In the Tank Information tab, select “Other” as the management method
- Record the tank where the water originated from in the “Uptake Location” port/comments field
- Complete the rest of the mandatory fields
- Further notes can be provided in the “Additional Comments” section
Agents have queried why a red light has been received for the NFP section
- The NFP section relates to non-first point of entry ports
- If the vessel is going to one of these ports, a NFP application needs to be submitted and approved prior to berthing at the NFP port
- If the vessel is not going to an NFP port, this section will have a red light
Multiple submissions of a report with BSD is not received immediately after
- This has been encountered with Ballast Water Reports
- Due to the efficiency of the system, agents have developed an expectation that they will receive a BSD almost immediately after submitting a BW report
- However, this doesn’t happen if a task is created or there is no change to the BSD
- The agent then thinks something is wrong and resubmits the application, sometimes twice!
- If a BSD is not received shortly after submitting an application, it is due to one of 2 reasons:
- It has triggered a task for the MNCC to action
- There is no change to the BSD therefore a new BSD does not need to be sent
How can an already approved agency rep be made a MARS Agency Administrator?
- This relates to if an agency rep was not made a MARS Agency Administrator during the approval process
- The MARS Administrator for that agency can click on their agency name in the MARS home screen, go to the “Agency Representative Details” tab, select the relevant agency rep, click edit then select the “Admin User” check box then click “Save”
Agents have asked how they can find out in MARS if the vessel is getting an
- Refer to the Biosecurity section of the BSD – it will inform if the vessel is scheduled for an inspection at the next port.
An agent is unable to submit a crew service request because a different agency has already been nominated as the crew agency
- When this happens the agent does get a message directing them to nominate their agency via the Visit screen however, being new to the system, they may need some assistance navigating to this screen and understanding of when they will be able to submit the request.
- The agent needs to nominate themselves via the Visit screen:
- Go to “Search Visit: screen
- Enter Vessel name, leave agency name blank, ensure correct arrival date range or leave these fields blank if not known and click “Search Visit” button
- Click on the appropriate port name where the service needs to be done and this will take the agent to the Visit Details screen
- The agent can nominate themselves as the Crew Agency then click Save
- The agent will get an email saying they have been nominated as crew agency
- The MNCC will get a task advising of the agency change.
- Once the MNCC approve this task, the agent will get an email saying they are the confirmed crew agency
- The agent can submit a crew change request