Commercial vessels, risks and inspection types

​Plant, animal or human diseases can be transmitted from insects or rodents that are carried on vessels, or from pests escaping from the vessel while it is in port, which can pose a threat to Australia's rural industries and human health.

This is why all commercial vessels arriving in Australia from overseas or that have been in contact with overseas vessels or sea installations are required to comply with Australia’s biosecurity laws and requirements.

The department is responsible for making sure that all vessels arriving in Australia from overseas, or that have been in contact with overseas vessels or offshore installations, comply with Australia’s biosecurity laws and International Health Regulations.

Pre-arrival reporting using MARS ensures that:

  • the biosecurity risk of each vessel entering Australian waters is assessed
  • all biosecurity risk posed by vessels is adequately managed.

Where a vessel inspection does not meet the department‘s standards additional directions or corrective actions will be issued by a biosecurity officer.

Vessel requirements and risk

Vessels such as barges and towed vessels, bulk carriers, container vessels, dredges, fishing vessels and tankers are all classed as commercial vessels.

Some vessels such as barges, cruise vessels, military vessels, Australian vessels, livestock carriers and offshore installations have additional requirements that must be met.

Upon arrival at an Australian port, that is a first point of entry, an inspection of the vessel may be conducted to assess and manage potential biosecurity risks.

These risks include: human health, food stores and waste (garbage), ballast water, marine pests (biofouling), animals, rodents, plants and insects and disease carrying organisms.

The jurisdiction of the Biosecurity Act 2015 is 12 Nautical Miles (NM). All international vessels, including barges and dredges, that are sailed, motored or towed through the 12NM limit enter Australian territory and are subject to pratique or first point of entry inspection on arrival.

In addition to department's requirements, state and territory governments also have biosecurity requirements.

Inspection types

The information is provided to assist the person in charge of the vessel to comply with biosecurity requirements during inspections:

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Barges and towed vessels

Barges and dredges are classified as commercial vessels by the department and are subject to biosecurity pre-arrival reporting requirements. A barge is a flat-bottomed vessel typically pushed or towed for the transport of heavy goods.

Towed vessels include, but are not limited to the following vessel types:

  • barges (dumb barges; jack-up barges; pipe-laying barges)
  • dredges
  • mobile offshore drilling units (semi-submersible rigs; jack-up rigs)
  • floatels (floating accommodation barges).

Where vessels are towed from overseas and are transferred to an Australian vessel outside Australian territory for delivery into a port, the master of the (Australian) vessel is required to submit a pre-arrival reporting.

Cruise vessels

The department considers cruise vessels to be a high biosecurity risk due to a number of factors, including:

  • the large number of crew and passengers on board increases the risk of spreading human diseases of biosecurity concern
  • passengers disembarking with souvenirs from overseas countries which may contain wood, sand/soil, seeds, grass/straw or other plant material, all of which are subject to biosecurity control
  • the large amount of food items and stores carried on board
  • the amount of waste to be managed
  • live plants on board.

Operators of cruise vessels must comply with requirements administered by the department to protect against these risks.

Livestock carriers

Livestock vessels entering Australian territory are considered to be of high biosecurity risk due to the nature of the cargo.

Information provided to the department in pre-arrival reporting, such as the Pre-Arrival Report (PAR) and Ballast Water Report and statement by the person in charge of livestock vessel is used to assess the actual risks attributable to individual vessels.

All livestock vessels must undergo inspection on every visit to Australia, irrespective of the vessel’s history or last port of call.

All livestock vessels are inspected at berth. Vessels must also be thoroughly cleaned disinfected, (with Soda Ash) and disinsected prior to arrival

Australian vessels

It is common for Australian registered vessels to ply waters beyond the 12 nautical mile limit as part of their daily activities or operations. Vessels that exceed this limit and which are exposed to another conveyance, or go to an overseas port will be subject to biosecurity control when returning to Australian territory. Vessels which are subject to biosecurity control must comply with the relevant requirements managed by the department. These requirements may vary due to vessel type.

The department regulates all vessels arriving in the Australian territory. These vessels may or may not, as part of their activities, come into contact or be exposed to overseas ports, international vessels or installations.

If a vessel is exposed, it will become subject to biosecurity control. (Vessel stores and waste may become subject to biosecurity control if an Exposed Goods Order is issued by a biosecurity officer).

If a vessel is not exposed, it is subject to an exception and will not be subject to biosecurity control.

Australian vessels may include but are not limited to:

  • Commercial fishing vessels
  • Department of Immigration and Border Protection vessels
  • Royal Australian Navy vessels
  • Cargo carriers
  • Commercial tugs
  • Rig tenders
  • Non-commercial fishing vessels
  • Tour and charter vessels
  • Research vessels
  • Privately owned yachts and cruisers
  • Any Australian registered vessel.

Reporting requirements

  • Vessel masters are required to submit a pre-arrival reporting.
  • Private non-commercial vessels and private superyachts and cruisers are subject to biosecurity control, must contact the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the department prior to arrival.
  • All vessels are also required to manage their ballast water with a department approved method.
  • All disembarking crew and passengers must have their personal effects available for inspection by a biosecurity officer prior to leaving the vessel.
  • If a vessel is subject to biosecurity control, masters must decide if they wish the vessel to remain in international status or request a release from biosecurity control (Coastal stripping).

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Vessels returning from Torres Strait

The Torres Strait is highly vulnerable to incursions of exotic pests and diseases present in countries to Australia’s north. The Torres Strait provides a potential transit route to the mainland for many of these serious pests and disease.

The department takes the risk seriously and biosecurity protocols help to manage the significant risk at our borders. Responsibility for the department's protection of the Torres Strait lies with the department's Inspection Services Group and the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).

There are hundreds of exotic pests of conc​ern to Australia including rabies; screw-worm fly; diseases carried by mosquitoes; invasive weeds; and many kinds of fruit fly that are currently not in Australia. Many pests would be expensive or impossible to control if they reached Australia’s food and livestock production areas. This could potentially impact Australia’s trade with other countries and threaten our environment, wildlife and human health.

Offshore installations

International vessels, aircraft, persons and goods arriving at installations operating within or outside Australian territory present possible pathways for exotic pests and diseases to enter Australia.

The jurisdiction of the Biosecurity Act 2015 is the Australian Territory which includes:

  • Australia
  • Christmas Island
  • the Cocos (Keeling) Islands
  • any external Territory
  • the airspace and the coastal sea of these areas which generally extends to 12 Nautical Miles (NM).

Installations operating outside of Australian territory do not come into the department’s control. However, any conveyance which leaves Australian territory and is not subject to biosecurity control, and which interacts with a conveyance outside of the Australian territory will become an exposed conveyance. In the context of interactions with an installation, a conveyance is a vessel or aircraft.

A conveyance becomes exposed by being in physical contact with, in close proximately to or being contaminated by another conveyance. When the exposed conveyance returns to Australian territory, it becomes subject to biosecurity control and it must pre-arrival report and notify if it intends to unload goods.

The department acknowledges that there are many conveyance interactions outside Australian territory that present minimal biosecurity risk. The department’s policy approach is that when these low risk interactions occur, the exposed conveyance should not become subject to biosecurity control when returning to Australia, or have to pre-arrival report or notify to unload goods.

The Biosecurity (Exposed Conveyance – Exceptions from Biosecurity Control) Determination 2016 (the Determination) gives effect to the department’s policy approach. The Determination is a legislative instrument made under section 196(2) of the Act.

Where a conveyance can meet the conditions of the Determination, it is excepted from being subject to biosecurity control when returning to Australian territory. Additionally, the conveyance qualifies for exceptions to pre-arrival reporting and notification to unload goods under the Biosecurity Regulation 2016.

For more information on installations and associated conveyances, refer to the Offshore Petroleum Installations Biosecurity Guide.

Pre-arrival reporting

To assist industry to plan their cruise itineraries for the next cruise season in advance (up to two years), proposed itineraries must be submitted to the Maritime Travellers Processing Committee (MTPC) for approval by the Australian Government agencies concerned. The MTPC can be contacted at MTPC.

Under the Biosecurity Act 2015, cruise vessels wishing to enter a port that is no​t a first point of entry must apply for and be granted permission by the department, prior to arrival at the port.

In addition to the above requirements, cruise vessels must also submit the following documents to the department prior to arrival:

  • Pre-Arrival Report (PAR) - Cruise vessels entering the Australian territory are required to submit this form within 96 to 12 hours of their estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the first point of entry.
  • Ballast Water Report (BWR) – A Ballast Water Report is to be submitted with the PAR.
PARs and BWRs must be submitted to the Maritime National Co-ordination Centre (MNCC).

Further Reporting Requirements

  • The master must complete this form to report to the department any change to the information originally reported on the PAR, prior to the vessel entering the next Australian port of call.
    • Vessel masters must advise the department of changes to previously reported information about crew/passenger movements, human health and waste disposal. Only the relevant section of this form should be completed to report the changes.
    • This form must be submitted to the MNCC 96 to 12 hours prior to the vessel’s arrival at the next Australian port.
    • Where illness or death on board the vessel is reported, the vessel master will be required to answer additional questions to assess the public health risk associated with the vessel prior to arrival at the port.
  • Live plants conveyance log – Cruise vessels are required to provide the department with a list of all live plants on board the vessel.

Cruise vessel passenger announcement

The person in charge or the operator of an incoming vessel or aircraft that is subject to biosecurity control because of subsection 191(2) or (4), must ensure that each person (including a member of the crew) on board the aircraft or vessel is given information about biosecurity requirements under the laws of the Commonwealth.

The content and form of information given under subsection (1) must have been approved by the Director of Biosecurity or the Director of Human Biosecurity. The information may be given in writing or orally, including by means of an audio, or audio‑visual, recording.

The following caution is to apply to the person in charge or the operator of an incoming aircraft or vessel that is subject to biosecurity control because of s191(2) or (4), in accordance with s220 of the Biosecurity Act 2015.

‘You may be liable to a civil penalty if you fail to ensure that each person (including a member of the crew) on board the aircraft/vessel is given approved information about biosecurity requirements under the laws of the Commonwealth’.

Either the passenger announcement or shore excursion announcement must be aired on all international cruise ships prior to arrival in Australia. The announcement must not be edited.

Coronavirus passenger announcement

The coronavirus passenger announcement must be read or played before arrival on all international cruise ships. This announcement must not be edited.

Note: this announcement is in addition to either the cruise vessel passenger announcement or shore excursion announcement.

Coronavirus passenger announcement

This is an important health announcement from the Australian Government regarding coronavirus. 

If you are feeling sick and have a fever, cough, sore throat, or are having difficulty breathing, please report to the medical centre. 

On arrival, Australian Government officers will escort you to a private bus to transfer you to a hotel. You must follow their direction. 

You are required to remain in the hotel in self-isolation for 14 days.

You will receive an Isolation Declaration Form. Please complete this and provide to an officer at immigration.

You are required by law to comply with these directions, and failure to do so may result in fines or imprisonment. 

Do not film or take photos of any Government official.

Please visit the Department of Health’s website for further information.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Passenger Announcements

Translation Services - Phone (in Australia): 131 450

The department provides transcripts and recordings of announcements to passengers, for use by cruise vessel operators. Translated versions are also available for people from non-English speaking backgrounds. This information includes awareness material.

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Further information

Please contact your local office for further advice.

Further information is also available via the Livestock Vessel Masters Information Sheet.

Last reviewed: 7 January 2021
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