21 September 2007
Protection zones for submarine communications cables off Sydney
Activities that could damage submarine communications cables will be prohibited or restricted in protection zones off the Sydney beaches Narrabeen and Tamarama/Clovelly from 1 October 2007, following their declaration by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Prohibited activities include trawling and dredging. Other activities are restricted according to their potential risk of damaging a cable, for example, restriction on anchoring depends on distance from shore, water depth, anchor weight and anchor line breaking strain. Marine users should be aware that significant criminal penalties apply to those engaging in prohibited or restricted activities.
‘Submarine cables are of enormous value to the Australian economy as they carry more than 99 per cent of Australia’s international voice and data traffic. These zones will protect these cables and limit the risk of serious consequences for our overseas communications, especially internet use,’ said Lyn Maddock, Acting ACMA Chair.
ACMA has prepared information about the zones for marine users:
- the coordinates for the zones are on the ACMA website for uploading to GPS systems
- a Notice to Mariners enables marine users to update their charts. The notice was issued on 14 September by the Australian Hydrographic Service in consultation with ACMA, and
- an information brochure, Sydney Submarine Cable Protection Zones, explains the zones and the new prohibitions and restrictions.
For copies of the brochure, available on the ACMA website, call 1300 856 337. Full details of the zones, as well as maps and zone coordinates, are also available on the ACMA website, or can be obtained by calling 1300 856 337.
ACMA recently granted a permit for a new submarine cable to be installed in the Northern Sydney Protection Zone. The issue of this permit fulfils one of the objectives of the new regime which is to encourage the installation of any new cables within the protection zones so that the impact on others users of the sea is minimised.
Media contact: Donald Robertson, ACMA Media Manager on (02) 9334 7980.
Schedule 3A to the Telecommunications Act 1997, established by the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Protection of Submarine Cables and Other Measures) Act 2005, sets out a comprehensive regime for the protection of submarine cables in Australian waters.
Schedule 3A makes ACMA responsible for:
- declaring protection zones over cables of ‘national significance’, and
- issuing permits to install submarine cables in Australian waters (both inside and outside a protection zone).
Activities within protection zones that are likely to cause damage to cables are either prohibited or restricted – and subject to heavy criminal penalties.
What are submarine telecommunications cables?
Submarine telecommunications cables are the underwater infrastructure that links Australia with other countries.
Disruption or damage to major submarine cables can have serious consequences and dramatically impede the flow of information to and from Australia. Any sustained outage further slows information flow, which can cause lost data, significant delays and severe financial loss, not only to cable owners but also to people and businesses that rely on communication links outside Australia.
Fibre optic submarine cables are susceptible to damage and breakage from external impact. Repairing a broken or damaged cable is an expensive and time-consuming exercise. While the locations of existing cables are well-known and are marked on most maritime maps, there has been accidental damage to cables several times in Australian waters in recent years. Activities that pose the greatest threat to undersea cables are sea-bottom trawl fishing, anchoring, sand-dredging and dumping.
Submarine cables of national significance
ACMA may declare a protection zone if it is satisfied that the cables are, or will be, of national significance. This means they are generally high capacity cables linking Australia to global communications systems and vital to the national interest.
The two NSW protection zones are:
- the Northern Sydney Protection Zone which covers the northern branches of the Australia Japan Cable and Southern Cross Cable and the area between them, out to 40 nautical miles offshore, and
- the Southern Sydney Protection Zone which covers the southern branches of the Australia Japan Cable and Southern Cross Cable and the area between them, extending 30 nautical miles offshore.
The Australia Japan Cable and the Southern Cross Cable are considered to be nationally significant cables as they connect Australia to Asia, North America and New Zealand and are vital to our national interest.
ACMA is soon to declare the third Australian submarine cable protection zone, off Perth.
Comprehensive consultation with potentially affected parties has ensured that the impact of the prohibitions and restrictions within the zones on marine users is minimised.
ACMA declared the Sydney protection zones in early July 2007, after publishing a proposal for the zone in September 2006, and consulting with affected parties during the 12 months. As required, ACMA also:
- established an advisory committee composed of key stakeholders
- considered advisory committee recommendations about the proposal
- consulted with the Environment Secretary, and
- Considered public submissions (of which there were 55).
Chris Cheah, ACMA Member, chaired the Advisory Committee which was established in July 2006. Its members came from the following potentially affected sectors:
- Australian Seafood Industry Council (commercial Net/Line Fishing representative)
- NSW Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing
- NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet
- Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage
- Australian Association of Ports and Marine Authorities
- Australian Shipowners Association
- Australia Japan Cable
- Southern Cross Cable
- Australian Telecommunications Users Group, and
- The diving sector.
Offences and penalties
Offences and penalties for the protection zones, as set out in Schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997, apply as follows:
- conduct that results in damage to a cable in a protection zone: imprisonment for 10 years or 600 penalty units, or both
- negligent conduct that results in damage to a cable in a protection zone: imprisonment for 3 years or 180 penalty units, or both
- engaging in prohibited or restricted activities in a protection zone: imprisonment for 5 years or 300 penalty units, or both.
The Australian Federal Police is the agency responsible for enforcement of these offences.