Meeting the Coza

The banks of the Yarra saw an array of protestors, both human and marine, waiting to meet the the Cornelis Zanen on Friday, the day after May Day. This third dredge vessel will stir up and remove the toxic sediments. Passions were stirred likewise, and questions raised about what exactly is hidden and untested in these highly contaminated areas.

A galaxy of stars was abroad on Friday on the Yarra. Dolphins and penguins frolicked in a line across the shimmering water, while on land other penguins (some from the local St Kilda colony and others from down south – no doubt worried that their winter feeding expeditions from Phillip Island are about to be severely compromised) danced, waddled and fraternised with the intriguing array of participants.



There were wetsuit clad men and women, ready to brave the cold and already unpleasant waters of the Yarra. There were people with signs about the sign of things to come, and festively adorned to match. And then there was the long arm of the law, maintaining a presence clearly deemed suitable for the event.


The occasion? The arrival of yet another destructive dredge vessel hired to carry out a potentially lethal long-term assault on the waters of the river and the bay. The Cornelis Zanen (Coza for short) now joins the Queen of the Netherlands, currently in the process of dealing the death blow to fragile and irreplaceable habitat at The Heads and about to breach the Rip Bank “weir” in a deepening action to remove rock which can never be put back. It also joins the Goomai, already digging up contaminated materials not far from Webb Dock. But don’t worry! – these are not as contaminated as the “real” contaminated sediments. That travesty of common sense is soon to happen, courtesy of Coza. And at that point our community will have taken the first irreversible step into the Port Phillip Bay of the future. Little wonder that the signs reflected the anger of generations acting for younger generations and others not yet born. Because the toxins will outlive them all, however young they are.



This is not about hooliganism or destructive behaviour from protestors, however much the spin experts would have us believe it. It is about decent, ordinary citizens trying to alert others to something too incredible to be left unchallenged. More and more people every day are discovering what is really happening, and getting angry. The PoMC and others have no right to claim that small numbers indicate the vast majority of Melbournians and Victorians “want this project”. It doesn’t mean anything of the sort. 

Amongst the questions put up for consideration by the protestors, was the presence of radionuclides and specifically caesium-137 in these sediments. There was no testing for these during the SEES. Are they there or aren’t they? Are they there in concentrations which should be of concern? That fact is, nobody knows. Mr Stephen Bradford was quick to take to our TV screens that same night to indicate disparagingly that the protestors were out of line even mentioning such things; he dismissed radionuclides as having been deemed of no concern by the EES. But it is instructive to pursue this in the forests of detail of the SEES Report. Readers can do this fairly easily themselves online. In the Main Volume, a search for the words “caesium” and “radionuclides” produces not one reference. In the 67 Technical Appendices, there are several mentions, which turn out to be in a 1996 study. However, in just one contemporary document we are able to glimpse a buried revelation.


A system of peer review was in place. The reviewer in this case was Dr Ian Irvine. His peer review in 2006 received a response from the PoMC, and he subsequently reviewed the response. Here is the extract:


Peer Review Initial Comment (Irvine, 2006):


Further information is required to justify the assumption that radionuclides did not need to be determined in the NC (North Channel: Ed) sediments. Given that parts of the NC area contain a wide variety of industrial contaminants, and therefore could contain radionuclides, reliance on previous studies would only be acceptable if the data was from the areas proposed for dredging and the data was current (as defined in the NODG)(National Ocean Guidelines for Dredged Material: Ed)


PoMC Response (2007):


A decision was made to omit an assessment of radionuclides (and dioxins/furans) based on guidance from regulatory authorities and other sources. Testing of radionuclides was conducted by EPA (approx 5 yrs ago), a copy of this report has been provided as an appendix to the NC report.


 Peer Reviewer’s Subsequent Response (Irvine, 2007):


Such advice should be documented and sources listed. If an exemption was given from this testing by the Determining Authority, this needs to be documented.


NODG states that radionuclides “need be done only once for any particular dredge area”, however there is no latitude for omitting them completely.


The report in Appendix K was actually written in 1996 based on two samples collected from the bay the previous year, one from the mid-bay and the other from the northern bay, somewhat west of the Port Melbourne Channel, and therefore cannot be considered to be within any of the current dredge areas. The study only investigated recently formed radionuclides (Beryllium-7, Lead-210, Radium-226 and Caesium-137) as its purpose was to determine sedimentation rates in the bay. It did not determine total radioactivity or radioactivity from longer-lived elements which occur naturally in sediments, or from industrial pollution sources.


On this basis, the proposal is not compliant with NODG. The Determining Authority should be consulted as to relevance of the approach adopted. Alternatively, selected sediment samples could be sent for radionuclide analysis.


So – what do you make of that? It is correct to add Dr Irvine’s final comment, that this was “unlikely to materially affect the sediment classification” – but what that seems to translate to (and is how the PoMC represented similar matters to do with the non-testing for dioxins) is that there are so many other toxins in the stuff that any more won’t make much difference. THIS IS NOT OUR VIEW.


Thus, when a protest such as that against the Coza’s arrival raises these matters, it can only be seen as responsible. Not a threat to anything.  A couple of metres into an arbitrary exclusion zone is deemed to be the line between safety and reckless, dangerous behaviour. Yet if those same two metres were to be measured vertically down into the toxic Yarra sediments we are supposed to regard them as the passageway to progress and wellbeing. Why is the digging up of the toxins by the Port of Melbourne not regarded as irresponsible by those same people who condemn paddlers on surfboards and in kayaks?


It should be noted that while police were busy maintaining standards, at least one inflatable dolphin was stabbed to death by an officer. Allegedly in the interests of safety. A shame he was not made to explain his action to the three-year-old waiting at home for its return.










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