Since March, 2010 a group of local residents have campaigned against plans to sink the ex HMAS Adelaide in 35 metres of water a mere 1.75 kilometres off Avoca Beach, where it will sit on 2 metres of sand. Over the last six months they have exposed serious environmental hazards posed by this plan. Through the No Ship At Avoca Inc.(NSAAI) initiative like the website and other actions they’ve kept members of the public well informed throughout. They’ve also been successful in bringing pressure to bear on the legislative and administrative processes of this state. The first phase of NSAAI’s action culminated in a partially successful result when the NSW Administrative Appeals Tribunal handed down a decision to impose strict conditions on plans to scuttle the vessel. While not a complete success, political pressure continues, but the group must surely feel vindicated in their small victory. Had it not been for their efforts, a contaminated wreck would have been scuttled off Avoca back in March.
A little about this image and my motivation for writing
This is a panorama comprising 5 shots taken with a Lumix DCM-TZ6 camera. In the foreground the extent of rocky coastline is quite evident. Avoca beach is clearly visible in the distance. It’s importance as a sand reservoir is also quite clear. This is a beautiful stretch of coastline. I find it inspiring and primal. I’m delighted that my grandchildren have this as their playground. Inspired by this beauty and a fundamental commitment to the principle of maximising opportunities for unimpeded natural change that I’ve been prompted me to write a series of posts on this Blog about the proposal to dump ex-HMAS Adelaide off Avoca Beach.
The recent History
From the beginning the arguments for the scuttling seemed thin, to say the least. The basic argument, was advanced by Les Graham operator of the Terrigal Dive school. It was a simple argumenty recorded on the ABC’s Stateline program, and it went like this:
We need a feature. Don’t get me wrong, we have some beautiful features in NSW in diving. South West Rocks has got a beautiful dive site. Coffs Harbour has got fantastic diving, we just needed a feature here. We’ve got reasonably, reasonably good diving but nothing that’s a stand out feature.
That was it. On this basis Les and others started lobbying for a dive feature in the area about 10 years ago. Finally the Commonwealth bequeathed the ex HMAS Adelaide as just such a feature. The wreck was to have bee be scuttled on 27 March 2010.
There was an apparently thorough stripping and cleaning of the vessel but then doubts emerged about whether PCBs and lead paints had been removed. Assurances from NSW Minister for Planning, Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Lands. The Hon. Tony Kelly, ALGA MLC Kelly were offered. The wreck was safe, there were no PCBs on board, no lead paint and it would have no impact on the marine or coastal environment. All that would happen would be environmentally positive. Ex HMAS Adelaide would be an artificial reef that would make a direct contribution to marine biodiversity.
Minister Kelly went further in the Stateline Program of 12 March 2010 stating that:
“The Adelaide is the first, as the Navy put it, their first Environmental Ship. It was painted with different paints and no lead.”
Establishing the facts
Minister Kelly either, did not have all the facts, or was ignoring some pressing realities. As Minister responsible for the Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA), a new agency established under the NSW Government restructure that commenced on 1 July 2009, he was the responsible Minister.
Ex-HMAS Adelaide was to become a structure owned by the Crown resting on Crown land under the management of LPMA. With responsibility for delivery of the project LPMA was responsible for all environmental studies, ship preparation and sinking as well as ongoing management of the site.
My Google search ‘Ex HMAS Adelaide Avoca Beach’ led me to an appealing front page. I was momentarily confused by the site. At first I thought it was a site set up by people with an interest in diving or naval vessels but it proved to be the LPMA site. Uncritical and promotional would bve the best way to describe the site. It really made me wonder about whether we had effective governance in NSW.
It’s a good thing that the No Ship At Avoca group took up the challenge of ensuring that hasty Ministerial decisions weren’t implemented. Despite the Minister’s willingness to scuttle the ship while it still posed an environmental threat, the No Ship At Avoca action ensured that in the end the process was subjected to appropriate judicial regulation and supervision. On 15 September the Administrative Appeals Tribunal announced that the plans to scuttle former HMAS Adelaide off Avoca Beach “ . . . could proceed on the condition the ship be cleaned of all:
- Remaining wiring, including junction boxes, which might be associated with polychlorinated biphenyls; and
- Canvas insulation to permit inspection for and removal of any remaining exfoliating and/or exfoliated red lead paint.”
No better history of this campaign will be found than the one on the No Ship at Avoca website.
The response of candidates in the recent Federal Election
During the recent Federal election campaign I received an email from the No Ship at Avoca group. Avoca is within the seat of Robertson. The email summarised the positions of the various candidates on the question of scuttling.
Deborah O’Neil, Labor candidate said she would look closely at all facts and study court ruling before committing an opinion while Darren Jameson, the Liberal candidate supported dumping the warship.
Peter Freewater, Greens candidate.
Supported dumping the warship if contaminants were removed and insisted that using the warship as a dive site is a form of recycling.
Michelle Meares, an independent was 100% against dumping of warship. She argued that the former warship should be recycled responsibly on land and materials should be reused. Michelle discusses this and other campaign issues in her YouTube video.
Independent, Melissa Batten, supported dumping the warship as her sons are scuba divers and she believed that diving was a healthy sport. Graham Freemantle, the Christian Democrats candidate also supported dumping the warship. Both Independent Jake Cassar and Family First candidate Michael Jakob, said they would not support dumping if the warship will damage the environment.
Where were the ‘Greens’?
Although, in many respects, the Greens are the strongest advocates for the environment simply using the word ‘Green’ does not necessarily infuse a person or a political party with a fundamental understanding of marine ecology, coastal morphology, geomorphology, heavy metals, PCBs or many of the other factors that are in play here. If the No Ship at Avoca candidate information is correct then it’s clear that the ‘Greens’ candidate for Robertson seriously maintained that scuttling the ship and using it as a dive site was a form of recycling. Certainly marine ecosystems develop in and around old wrecks but why not reuse the metals from the vessel? Why dump it? Is this the most sustainable practice? Will future generations thanks us for this?
Not wishing to be completely critical of the ‘Greens” I must give credit to Greens MLC Ian Cohen. He has been a string advocate on this matter. On 23 September he said in relation to the Tribunal’s decision:
The new conditions demonstrate that Minister Kelly, in his haste to sink the ship, was willing to threaten and compromise the local marine environment. Had community groups not intervened, the Minister would have overseen the dumping of significant pollutants into the marine environment.
He also makes some important observations about PCBs whichj were found to be on board the vessel, stating that:
The dangerous impact of PCBs on human health was recognised when the American Congress banned their manufacture in 1979—two years after the HMAS Adelaide was built. Despite the Minister assuring the House on 24 February this year that “all PCBs, lead and other toxic materials have been removed”, Avoca residents found evidence during a later inspection of the ship that parts manufactured in 1977 were still on board.
Raising the Broader Questions
On 15 September, 2010, in a remarkable piece of sophistry Minister Kelly’s media release maintained that:
The Ex-HMAS ADELAIDE Project has followed the environmentally sustainable waste management principles of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle‟, as more than 524 tonnes of copper, aluminium, stainless steel and lead ballast have already been recycled from the ship, while the ship itself is being reused to create an artificial reef which will attract marine life and divers to the area and boost tourism.
What do we do with old naval vessels, with any old vessels for that matter? I’d have thought we’d strip them of their dangerous and their valuable components, reused whatever we could and then recycle what remained. It surprised me that this wasn’t the approach adopted. Yet serious questions remain. These are matters of environmental management and the authenticity of policy promoting approaches such as “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.