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The Port of Melbourne Corporation (PoMC) is asking Victorians to sanction a range of environmental, social and economic risks, so that just a few of the world’s oversized (14 metre draught *) container vessels and oil tankers can enter the Bay more fully loaded.

* Draught is the depth of water a vessel displaces as it sits in the water

What is involved? – Scope of the Project

  • Up to 48 million tonnes of sand and silt habitat dredged from the sea bed and Yarra (using average density of  River1860 kg/m3). Rock removal at The Rip using approx. 50 tonne drag head to break up and remove rock, and hydro-hammering (not tested during trial). When maintenance dredging is added over 30 years, a total 78 million tonnes with total volume equivalent to a 15x4 metre trench from Melbourne to Sydney.

  • At least 2 years duration – up to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – noise, lights etc.

  • Dumped in huge new spoil grounds within the Bay – a 7.5 sq. Km site off Mornington and an extension of existing site SW of Brighton where 10+ million tonnes, including up to 3 milliontonnes of contaminated spoil from the Yarra Bed may be dumped – some highly toxic. PoMC has rejected land based treatment and disposal as too costly and difficult.

  • Turbidity & sedimentation - murky water - at levels never before experienced in the Bay.

  • Essential services under Yarra near Westgate Bridge re-located ($$ million taxpayer funded) so oversized ships can access the River as far as Bolte Bridge. Main trunk Sewer willmerely be capped NOT lowered. Some ships will have to be “tugged” over the sewer main, just over one metre below – grounding or anchor strike could cause raw sewage to enter Yarra River

  • Re-location of Melbourne’s Wholesale Fruit & Vegetable Markets ($300M+ taxpayer funded, and Footscray Rd ?cost), so Swanson Dock & storage facilities can be extended.

The Bay ecosystem – is it under threat?

There are 5000 species in the Bay – some unique. The Southern waters of Australia, including Port Phillip Bay have the highest diversity of marine species anywhere in the world. 90% of species occur NOWHERE else on earth! Many species have not even been fully studied and yet, before we understand our beautiful local underwater world, we might lose it from:

  • Increased turbidity: Reduces light in the water column. Species reliant on sight for locating food: fish, dolphins, seals, iconic bay penguins and their major food source anchovy will be affected. Death of seagrass & kelp beds which provide essential habitat.

  • Oil spills: larger, less manoeuvrable vessels risk grounding in the treacherous Rip.

  • Toxicants:  Dredging releases toxicants: Pesticides, insecticides and industrial contaminants trapped in Yarra silt. Heavy metals such as Cadmium, Mercury, Zinc, Lead and Arsenic and Ammonia from Yarra sediments would re-enter the foodchain.

  • Death by smothering: Covering organisms which cannot move: sponges, corals and seagrasses, as turbidity settles. Death of bay floor organisms responsible for maintaining the Nitrogen balance in the Bay, leading to risk of:

  • Toxic algal blooms: Pea green water, stinky corners - $$$ to partially rectify – Dr Graham Harris ex-CSIRO Fellow advises that once the delicate Nitrogen balance tips no amount of rehabilitation will completely restore the Bay to its former condition.

  • Drastically compromised water quality: $$$ to build new treatment plants.


EPA will audit the project, however ongoing Environmental Management will be via a “self-regulation” model – an alliance between the PoMC and Royal Boskalis – the Dutch private dredging company. Will the Bay be optimally managed via corporate self-regulation? In September 2004, EPA publicly stated that it was not confident the proposed Environmental Management Plan (EMP) would adequately protect the Bay. The extensive rock falls at the Heads during September 2005 “trial” dredging suggests the EMP did not protect that unique asset, and in its audit report of the trial, EPA said there was only limited evidence that delicate sponges and corals would ever fully recover.

Costs and Benefits?

At the EES Panel Hearing, a PoMC Economics Expert witness admitted under cross-examination that financial benefits to individual Victorians would be “immeasurably minor”, so the PoMC’s cost benefit analysis requires careful re-examination.

  • Bay related business: Tourism, fishing and support industry at risk and loss of aesthetic and environmental services provided by the Bay have not been adequately costed, especially for the Mornington. Peninsula

  • More container throughput has meant greater mechanisation and LOSS of waterside jobs here and in other countries, however...

  • Project is predicated on continued growth of trade; particularly imports- PriceWaterhouse Coopers forecast container trade will quadruple by 2030 regardless of whether channel deepening proceeds. If so, jobs should not be lost if the project doesn’t proceed!

  • Melbourne is a river port, always physically limited by the Yarra and Bay depths and inner Melbourne itself – requiring ongoing dredging - this proposal is not a sustainable solution!

  • PoMC claims 30% of ships cannot fully load – No evidence provided to support the claim as noted by the Independent Panel in 2004. PoMC are still to provide adequate data.

  • The Panel Hearing found that even after channel deepening, 14 m draught vessels will STILL be tide restricted at The Heads and the Yarra River, requiring tide assistance to safely enter The Rip, and tide and tugs to safely enter berths in port. 

  • By 2030 a minority of ships arriving in Melbourne will be 14 metre draught! What will we have gained and WHY? And: Ships in excess of 14 metre draught are already visiting deeper ports. But – Melbourne won’t be able to accommodate 14+ metre ships even after channel deepening: 14 metres will be the limit! And: Hard evidence that even 14 metre draught vessels will regularly visit Melbourne in future is not readily available.

Are there alternative solutions? …….Yes. It is a logistics puzzle, not complex science.

  • Melbourne should change its marketing focus to become the premier port for medium sized shipping to/from and around Australia – keep using the right sized ships that fit! Just as medium sized planes are making a come-back. And, PoMC could broaden its thinking: invest in rail and other deep water ports around Australia!

  • Do we care how goods get here? Oversized ships should offload some excess weight (a few boxes) at existing already deeper ports – Brisbane, Sydney, Fremantle, Darwin – all connected to the National standard gauge rail. Some goods could arrive by train – and quicker! The lightened ship then continues its journey to Melbourne and other ports.

  • Funds for channel deepening could be allocated to a joint States project (a la Murray River) further upgrading the national rail grid in a NATION building exercise – creating more sustainable jobs in regional areas as well as a solution for the port.

  • Computer technology is currently available (DUKC®) that would accommodate some deeper draught ships without ANY dredging – PoMC did not include this in its EES - Why? The eminent Drewry Report indicates most benefits are obtained in the first 50 cms of deeper draught. This could probably be achieved with the assistance of DUKC® alone!

  • Oversized vessels could not fit into the Panama Canal either! - USA responded by triplicating/quadrupling rail tracks across the Nation – a faster, cost effective, efficient alternative to shipping, especially for high value goods.

Can the Federal Government assist?

YES! The project has been referred to the Federal Government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999, due to matters of National significance: Marine Parks, migratory species, RAMSAR sites and Commonwealth land - Point Nepean and Point Wilson. The Federal Government is the final arbiter – to protect our No. 1 public asset – Port Phillip Bay – ask Federal government to stop this destruction!

What can we do?

  • Write to Federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Hon. Peter Garrett, Minister for Environment & Water Resources, Parliament House Canberra Peter.Garret.MP@aph.gov.au

  • Use the information in this fact sheet to write to Premier John Brumby, Ministers; Gavin Jennings (Environment), John Lenders (Treasurer), Justin Madden (Planning) at firstname.surname@parliament.vic.gov.au and your local state & federal MPs.

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