29 January 2008
Marine activities to be prohibited or restricted in Perth submarine cable protection zone
Activities that could damage submarine communications cables will be prohibited or restricted in a protection zone off City Beach, Perth from Friday, 1 February 2008. This follows the declaration of the zone by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in October 2007 to protect the SEA-ME-WE3 cable, one of three major undersea communications cables that link Australia to the world.
Trawling and dredging are among the prohibited activities in the Perth Protection Zone. A range of other activities will be subject to restrictions that are aimed at minimising the risk of damage. The restrictions include the use of anchors, pots and traps and vary according to the distance from shore and/or the water depth.
Marine users should be aware that significant criminal and civil penalties apply to those engaging in prohibited or restricted activities and that related fines are 5 times higher for bodies corporate.
Many activities will be unaffected. These include activities that do not contact the seabed, and any recreational activity that occurs within 500 metres of the shore. Recreational fishers that target large bottom-dwelling fish offshore will be able to use any size circular hook and can continue using J-hooks provided that their line has a breaking strain of 50 kg or less. Recreational fishers that target mid or upper water fish will not be affected by the zone.
Some commercial fishing methods will also be unaffected by the protection zone. Shark netting around beaches is not affected by the protection zone.
The following information about the Perth Protection Zone is available:
- the ACMA website (www.acma.gov.au/subcables) has full details of the zone, maps, location information and details of prohibited and restricted activities
- the coordinates for the zone are on the ACMA website for uploading to GPS systems. The Perth protection zone can also be viewed on Google Earth if this application has been downloaded to your PC
- a brochure, Perth Submarine Cable Protection Zone that explains the zones and the new prohibitions and restrictions is available by calling 1300 856 337
- the Australian Hydrographic Office issued a preliminary Notice to Mariners about the new zone on 7 December 2007.
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.
Damage to submarine communications cables
Submarine communications cables are the underwater infrastructure linking Australia with other countries.
Disruption or damage to major submarine cables can have serious consequences by dramatically impeding the flow of information to and from Australia. A sustained outage can cause data loss, significant delay and severe financial loss not only to cable owners but also to people and businesses relying on communication with the rest of the world.
Fibre optic submarine cables are susceptible to damage and breakage. Activities that pose the greatest threat to undersea cables are sea-bottom trawl fishing, anchoring, sand-dredging and dumping.
Although 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.
Repairing a broken or damaged cable is an expensive and time-consuming exercise.
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. Such cables are generally high capacity, link Australia to global communications systems and are recognised as vital to the national interest.
ACMA declared two protection zones off Sydney in 2007, and they began on 1 October 2007. They 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.
In late September 2007, ACMA made a declaration for a submarine cable protection zone off the coast at City Beach, Perth, which will take effect on 1 February 2008.
The Perth Protection Zone stretches from City Beach, Perth, to 51 nautical miles offshore (or to a depth of 2000 metres). The zone extends one nautical mile either side of the SEA-ME-WE3 cable, which links Australia’s communications network with South East Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe.
Prohibited activities within the protection zone
Marine activities that pose a serious risk of damage to submarine cables are prohibited within the Perth Protection Zone. From 1 February 2008, it will be an offence to undertake the following prohibited activities throughout the Perth Protection Zone.
- Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship trawl gear designed to work on or near the seabed, or a mid-water trawl
- Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a dredge, including for scallop dredging
- Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a demersal longline, including setlines or trotlines
- Establishing, maintaining or using a spoil ground or other ocean disposal point (including dumping materials at sea)
- Scuttling or attempting to scuttle a ship
- Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a structure moored to the seabed with the primary function of attracting fish for capture (such as a fish aggregating device)
- Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a Scottish or Danish seine
- Use of or towing, operating or suspending from a ship a type of net, rope, chain or other object used in fishing operations that is capable of contacting the seabed, other than those activities listed in the restrictions.
Restricted activities within the protection zone
Within the Perth Protection Zone, certain activities are restricted to the extent to which they pose a risk of damage to a cable. For example, some activities cannot damage a cable if they are conducted close to shore where the cables are buried several metres below the seabed and housed in metal conduit. To provide for the reduced risk to cables located close to shore, some restrictions on marine activities will vary with either distance from shore, water depth or both.
Some restrictions allow certain activities to continue provided that notification and consultation with cable owners occurs before engaging in the activity and the activity occurs in a manner that is unlikely to cause cable damage. Any person intending to conduct these activities within the Perth Protection Zone must contact cable owners at least 21 days prior to the commencement of the activity and must comply with consultation requirements set out in the declarations.
Offences, penalties and enforcement
Offences and penalties for the protection zones, as set out in Schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997, apply as follows:
a. conduct that results in damage to a cable in a protection zone: imprisonment for 10 years or 600 penalty units, or both
b. negligent conduct that results in damage to a cable in a protection zone: imprisonment for 3 years or 180 penalty units, or both
c. 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 the above offences.
Causing damage to a cable or losses arising from that damage, or causing damage or loss by engaging in prohibited or restricted activities, can also give rise to civil rights of action by cable owners and anyone else affected by that conduct.
ACMA had consulted extensively with potentially affected parties to minimise the impact of the prohibitions and restrictions within the zones on marine users.
ACMA published a proposal for the zone in October 2006 and consulted with affected parties over the following 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
Chris Cheah, ACMA Member, chaired the Advisory Committee which was established in July 2006. Its members came from the following sectors:
- Western Australian Fishing Industry Council
- Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage
- Department of Premier and Cabinet (WA)
- Australian Association of Ports and Marine Authorities
- Australia Shipowners Association
- Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association
- Australian Telecommunications Users Group, and
- the diving sector.