So far away from us – yet inextricably connected by the sea
Melbourne Maritime Heritage Network (MMHN) acknowledges with sorrow the desperate plight the citizens and seafarers of Ukraine.
Many merchant vessels remain in Ukrainian waters with ships at berth unable to leave because Ukrainian ports have been closed since the conflict commenced.
Many in the international maritime sector are desperately working to assist seafarers in these most and challenging times across the globe.
The marvel of maritime wrecks. How simply amazing!
Maritime enthusiasts the world over are doubly astonished! Last month there was news of the wreck of the Endeavor in Newport Harbour off the coast of Rhode Island (USA). But perhaps even more astounding, this month the wreck of the Endurance was found off the coast of Antarctica!
The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust (FMHT) reports that after 106 years, archaeologists have not only located the wreck but filmed this most “unreachable of wrecks” in irrefutably in the wildest, most remote and seemingly impossible location. How did this happen? The FMHT applied to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for a permit to conduct a mission to the Antarctic in February 2022, to look for the wreck with a charter agreement with the South African Government on research and supply vessel Agulhas II. The appropriately named expedition, Endurance22, sailed from Cape Town early in February 2022, significantly a month after the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s death on January 5, 1922 on the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic. Falklands-born maritime archaeologist Dr John Shears, who also led the 2019 expedition, and a Trustee of the FMHT, led a team of 50. The detail of the expedition is fascinating. Imagine locating a wreck which has not been seen since it was crushed by the ice and sank in the Weddell Sea in 1915!
MMHN encourages you to look read further on this wonderful Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust website. See fmht.co.uk
Long ago, before the Panama Canal, vessels sailing from Europe to the west coast of the Americas, or from one side of the New World to the other, had to do so by way of Cape Horn, where Atlantic meets Pacific – the fiercest patch of ocean on the planet. Old square-riggers ferried immense quantities of cargo and passengers, as trade and travel boomed between the 17th and 19th centuries.
The worst passage was east to west, towards the Falklands, and the seabed around the islands became a final resting place for many a sailing ship. Those that did manage to limp into Port Stanley often found themselves condemned to remain, and so became part of its rich history of maritime heroism and disaster. This seafaring heritage has continued through the eras of steam and diesel to this day.
Piers and ports
Week after week, the media reports alarming neglect and degradation of piers and wharves around the Victorian coast. Closer to home, Parks Victoria has closed three piers at historic Williamstown, prohibiting public access due to the structural risk. There seems to be no timeframe to reopen them.
Docklands residents face the same prohibition on Central Pier which is incrementally disappearing before our eyes. Again, there is no timeframe for reopening. Where is the regard for public amenity? The poor state of our ports and piers and much of Victoria’s other maritime infrastructure is sadly not news!
Who precisely is responsible? This is not an easy question to answer when you consider the labyrinthine web of state agencies for piers, wharves and ports in Victoria. Many in MMHN, and many in the Docklands community, struggle to follow the complex lines of demarcation at play in the management of our waterways, ports and piers.
The state government conducted an Independent Review of the Victorian Ports System in 2020. It was the “first holistic review into the ports system in 20 years.” The government claims that “since then, the [waterways] system has gone through significant changes, including the introduction of a third stevedore in 2015 and leasing of the Port of Melbourne in 2016.”
Clearly, change was overdue. Indeed all 63 recommendations in the review were accepted in order to “cut red tape, boost safety, and improve the way our ports operate”. Yet the complexity of waterways management remains. This bureaucratic re-jig appears to have failed: waterways management remains too complex. Our important maritime infrastructure continues to rot.
Although a partial list, enumerating the key entities and roles may be helpful:
- Ports Victoria is a new entity arising as key recommendation of the review. MMHN is pleased to note the apparent rationalisation of several ports agencies in Victoria. We congratulate Brendan Webb who has been appointed inaugural CEO for the Victorian commercial ports body, Ports Victoria. His new role involves overseeing the merger of Ports Victoria and the former Victorian Ports Corporation (Melbourne) and Victorian Regional Channels Authority. Ports Victoria is based in Geelong and is responsible for vessel “transit zones’ in Port Phillip Bay.
- Local and Commercial Ports (Dept of Transport). There are 63 designated “local ports” along Victoria’s coasts and multiple ports management authorities with responsibly to provide services to the commercial fishing industry, charter boats and recreational fishing and boating interests.
- Port of Melbourne (PoM). Formerly a Victorian Government entity, the Port of Melbourne Corporation was transferred in 2016 under a 50-year lease to the commercial Port of Melbourne Group owned by a consortium of shareholders. Stevedoring operations are undertaken by its tenants and not by PoM employees. PoM is not responsible for Station Pier or its cruise ship operations. However, PoM does have control of areas of acute interest to its neighbours in the Docklands precinct as well as custodianship of more than 30 local heritage assets. See portofmelbourne.com/facilities-development/port-development-strategy
- Parks Victoria (PV): A statutory authority managing 70 per cent of Victoria’s coastline, PV manages Port Phillip, Western Port and Port Campbell responsible for port operations safety, efficiency and effectiveness, managing port infrastructure (piers, jetties, navigational aids, moorings and berths) and new works (marina, boat and jetty construction). PV manages the Yarra, Maribyrnong and Patterson Rivers, Lake Moodemere, Albert Park Lake and the ex-HMAS Canberra dive site reserve. It also does dredging works on 10 sites within Port Phillip and Western Port to maintain safe access to local port facilities such as boat ramps, piers, jetties and harbours. See parks.vic.gov.au/water-management •