Australia holds regular National oil spill exercises through the National Plan for Maritime Emergencies. Two National Plan exercise activities that have taken place include Exercise Northerly held in Darwin (Northern Territory) in 2014 and Exercise Torres focussed on the Torres Straits (Queensland) in 2018. The overall aim of the two exercises were to implement and review the effectiveness of a combined Commonwealth (Federal), Territory/State and industry marine pollution response to a Level 3 pollution incident. Both Exercise Northerly and Exercise Torres included oiled wildlife response actions to practice and test. Exercise Northerly for wildlife was principally a desk top activity that included a number of injects relating to wildlife threatened and impacted by an oil spill event. Wildlife considered in Northerly included cetaceans, dugong, marine reptiles and seabirds. The key wildlife objectives for Northerly were to establish and maintain a wildlife Incident Management Team under the broader Incident Command structure and develop wildlife incident action plans for hazing wildlife and responding to oil impacted wildlife. Exercise Torres incorporated both planning and field based operational activities and considered cetaceans, dugong, marine reptiles and seabirds both threatened and impacted by oil pollution. Wildlife planning during exercise Torres was principally held in Cairns at the established Incident Control Centre where incident action plans were developed to haze oil threatened wildlife, collect oiled impacted wildlife and then rehabilitate wildlife considering the strict quarantine restrictions imposed on wildlife movements through and out of the Torres Strait Protection Zone. The field deployment activities for Torres were then managed and undertaken through a forward operations base established on Waiben Island, some 800 kilometres or 500 miles north of Cairns that borders Papua New Guinea. The wildlife field teams were required to establish an oiled wildlife response centre making it fully operational with pre-deployed equipment, manage responder safety for actual dangerous wildlife in the area, respond to reports of impacted wildlife, transport impacted mock wildlife through the different contaminant hazard zones (i.e. hot, warm and cold zones) and then to the wildlife care centre, undertake wildlife assessment using narrative techniques, triage wildlife based on provided wildlife assessment data, decontaminate mock wildlife and then provide basic wildlife rehabilitation practices. Both of the National exercises provided effective opportunities to practice the skills necessary to support oiled wildlife response actions and to identify key learnings for better practices when responding to oiled wildlife threatened and impacted in remote areas.

Australia's contingency planning system for managing oil spills is managed at the national level through the National Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies (the National Plan). The National Plan is administered by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) with each state or territory then having their own local administrative processes for managing spills under the National Plan framework (e.g. Queensland's Coastal Contingency Action Plan, (QCCAP)).

Within most states and the Northern Territory jurisdiction exercises are run on a regular basis (e.g. annually in Queensland), except where there are major oil spill events that occur within the planned exercise timeline (e.g. Pacific Adventurer oil spill, Queensland 2009). These local exercises provide the opportunity to practice and test response capacity generally with the learnings used to strengthen response capacity in the longer term. These exercises tend to be developed and managed using internal state or territory resources.

AMSA through the National Plan framework also provides the opportunity to support a national run exercise program. Under this situation privatised exercise planning companies are contracted to deliver the oil spill exercise with the overall exercise being managed by a working committee under AMSA and with state and territory representation and subject matter experts supporting the process.

Exercises within Australia have historically focussed more on marine, aerial and shoreline response type demands and activities. More recently this has been expanded to better include wildlife matters given the need to engage and support wildlife activities across incident control management and operational processes.

In 2014 Exercise Northerly was held in Northern Territory waters and then in 2018 Exercise Torres focussed on the Torres Straits Protected Area (Queensland's oil spill response jurisdiction). These two exercise were run as National Plan exercises and both included wildlife matters. The focus of this paper on these two exercises and not others that included wildlife special ideas is because of the role of the author as the wildlife exercise planner, wildlife exercise controller and evaluator for Exercise Northerly and Torres.

The overall aim of these two national exercises was to implement and review the effectiveness of a combined Commonwealth (Federal), State or Territory and industry marine pollution response to a Level 3 pollution incident.

Exercise Northerly was a functional exercise, though the wildlife component was run principally as a desktop type activity, in Darwin on 4–5 June 2014.

For Exercise Northerly the specific objectives for the exercise included:

  1. Establish and maintain an Incident Management Team (IMT) that functions effectively

  2. Develop an effective Incident Action Plan (IAP) in response to the situation

  3. Establish effective incident communication

  4. Develop and implement an effective public communication and media strategy

  5. Develop and notionally implement an effective Wildlife Incident Action Plan.

The wildlife targeted in Exercise Northerly included whales, dolphins, dugong, sea turtles, sea snakes, crocodiles and seabirds. The key wildlife output from Northerly was to establish and maintain a wildlife Incident Management Team under the broader Incident Command structure and develop wildlife incident action plans for hazing wildlife and responding to oil impacted wildlife.

For Exercise Torres this was run over two phases. Phase one was a two-day strategic discussion exercise held in Cairns 1–2 August, 2018. Phase two was a two-day operational (field) exercise run in Cairns, the Torres Strait and Kaiwalagal Region during the week 17–21 September 2018.

Phase two of Exercise Torres is principally being addressed by this paper given its wildlife focus but it must be noted that Phase one was imperative in the lead up to the effective outcomes of Phase two.

The Exercise Torres Phase two objectives included:

  1. Exercise the safe operational management of a Level 3 incident involving a multi-agency, multijurisdictional and cross sector Incident Control Centre (ICC)

    • 1) Practice the management of an ICC in Cairns

    • 2) Practice the establishment of an IMT using the Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS-4)

    • 3) Practice the establishment of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on Waiben Island

    • 4) Establish control of the tactical response through the ICC and FOB – Maintain situational awareness of the incident response between the ICC, FOB and field teams

    • 5) Develop operable multi-directional communication and coordination arrangements between the ICC, Marine Pollution Controller, and Local and District Disaster Management Groups.

  2. Exercise the safe tactical deployment of resources and response personnel to conduct shoreline protection and clean-up operations in geographically remote and dispersed locations:

    • 1) Coordinate the logistical support of tactical operations, including communication

    • 2) Demonstrate the ability to implement, manage and coordinate field response operations

    • 3) Practice the safe deployment and use of spill response equipment, technology and oiled wildlife response equipment

  3. Establish and maintain effective community liaison, engagement and inclusion with community members:

    • 1) Integrate trained community members into response operations

    • 2) Practice public engagement and coordinated communication and messaging

Exercise Torres for wildlife incorporated both planning in the ICC and field based operational activities through the FOB and included the wildlife dugong, dolphins, whales, marine turtles and seabirds both threatened and impacted by oil pollution.

To support the evaluation of the wildlife aspects of the exercise a specialised set of wildlife objectives were also applied as assessment tools and these included:

  1. Establish & deliver wildlife functions within the ICC

  2. Manage field risks

  3. Manage, in real time, dangerous wildlife situations during field activities for all responders and exercise personnel

  4. Establish a remote site wildlife rehabilitation facility

  5. Apply best available oiled wildlife response practices

  6. Monitor financial expenses

The focus of this paper is to demonstrate a model showing how wildlife can be effectively incorporated into oil spill exercises using Exercise Northerly and Exercise Torres as Australian examples.

Exercise Northerly Scenario

On Wednesday 4 June 2014, MV Beagle Trader, carrying cargo was transiting west from the Torres Straight towards Port Darwin.

At around 1000, the Beagle Trader was involved in a collision at latitude 12° 07' S, longitude 130° °49' E, some 15 nautical miles north of Port Darwin. The Master reported the collision to the AMSA Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) advising that there were no casualties on board but that her vessel appeared to have been holed and fuel oil was escaping. Subsequently the Master turned towards Port Darwin seeking a place of refuge. She estimated that some 400tonne of Intermediate Fuel Oil (IFO180) may have been lost.

Exercise Northerly Wildlife Injects

The Exercise Northerly planning and writing committee included a subject matter expert for wildlife (Michael Short) who developed the wildlife special ideas and injects and then provided support as a part of exercise control during the running of the exercise.

During the exercise the special ideas and injects were provided directly to the IMT and then managed or actioned by the appropriate functional area. The injects (Table 1) included specific times for when they were added to the exercise, where the information was sourced and then the anticipated actions that should be expected from the IMT that could be used for the exercise evaluation process.

Table 1

Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly

Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Northerly

To support the creation of a simulated environment for Exercise Northerly a number of photos of wildlife at risk and impacted were provided to the Intelligence Function of the IMT as a part of their situational awareness role.

Exercise Torres (Phase two) Scenario

On Monday 17th September 2018, the bulk carrier, MV Noble Tasman, was transiting through the Torres Strait on a voyage to Singapore. At approximately 1100hrs, whilst undertaking an internal transfer, the MV Noble Tasman discharged a quantity of intermediate fuel oil into the sea north of Poruma (Coconut) Island. The vessel immediately contacted the Reef Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) and AMSA JRCC. Following notifications and inspection of the vessel, the Master continued on the planned voyage.

On the morning of Tuesday 18th September 2018, a second discharge occurred near the entrance to East Strait. The master reported the second discharge to Reef VTS and AMSA JRCC. AMSA subsequently detained the vessel and directed it to Darwin. Over the ensuing days shoreline impacts were reported on Poruma (Coconut), Warraber (Sue), Keriri (Hammond), Ngurupai (Horn), Waiben and Muralug (Prince of Wales) Islands.

The field exercise was conducted on the 19th and 20th of September with an ICC established in Cairns coordinating a simulated field response on Waiben, Warraber and Poruma Islands. The exercise notionally started on day three of the incident with the IMT receiving a handover from the outgoing team at the commencement of the exercise. This allowed the IMT and field teams to have an accelerated start to the response by inheriting an initial IAP and field orders. This also allowed the IMT to plan a response based on modelled impacts including prepositioned equipment and personnel. Attendance at Phase two exceeded two hundred personnel each day including exercise participants, observers and exercise control staff.

Exercise Torres Wildlife Injects

The exercise planning and writing committee for Torres included a subject matter expert for wildlife (Michael Short) who developed the special ideas and injects and supported the exercise evaluation team during the running of the Phase two exercise.

The special ideas and injects (Table 2) were provided directly to the IMT and then managed or actioned by the appropriate functional area.

Table 2

Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres

Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres
Wildlife specific injects and anticipated actions associated with Exercise Torres

For Exercise Torres wildlife intelligence, wildlife planning and high level wildlife management were undertaken in Cairns at the established ICC where IAPs were developed to haze oil threatened wildlife, collect oiled impacted wildlife and then rehabilitate wildlife considering the strict quarantine restrictions imposed on wildlife movements through and out of the Torres Strait Protection Zone.

The field deployment activities for Exercise Torres were then locally managed and undertaken through a FOB established on Waiben Island, some 800 kilometres or 500 miles north of Cairns that borders Papua New Guinea. The wildlife field teams were required to establish an oiled wildlife rehabilitation centre making it fully operational with pre-deployed equipment, manage responder safety for actual dangerous wildlife in the area (e.g. crocodiles), respond to reports of impacted wildlife (plush toys contaminated with a mix of coconut oil and food colouring), transport impacted mock wildlife through the different contaminant hazard zones (i.e. hot, warm and cold response zones) and then to the wildlife rehabilitation centre, undertake wildlife assessment using narrative techniques to describe their actions, triage wildlife based on provided wildlife assessment data, decontaminate mock wildlife using the AMSA wash container and then provide basic wildlife care practices using narrative to describe the applied and proposed actions.

From the two exercises the evaluations showed that there were learnings and improvements to be made to the IMT supporting the wildlife function and that for the field activities (associated with Exercise Torres) the deliverables met the evaluator's expectations.

In summary the learnings associated with the wildlife IMT activities identified the need to review and update the contingency plans for oiled wildlife response and to provide more training specifically for wildlife IMT staff to better prepare their capacity to support oiled wildlife responses at this level.

Wildlife is an integral part of oil spill responses. Exercises are an essential contingency planning tool to strengthen response capacity. Like all oil spill response functions wildlife needs to be formally integrated into exercise opportunities. The involvement of wildlife into exercises in creating a simulated environment does have complications. The Australian national exercises Northerly and Torres demonstrated effective tools to practice and test the skills necessary to support oiled wildlife response actions and to identify key learnings when responding to oiled wildlife threatened and impacted in remote areas.