NEWS FEATURE - The Recovery of a Port

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There were no more dramatic TV images of January’s Brisbane River floods than the passing parade of castaway boats, pontoons, and assorted debris drifting to an unknown fate. DOUGLAS WILLIAMS details their fate and the quick response to have the Port of Brisbane back up-and-running within less than a week

NEWS FEATURE - The Recovery of a Port
NEWS FEATURE — The Recovery of a Port

The Port of Brisbane is largely back in business after the devastating floods that affected vast areas of Queensland and much of the country this last summer.

As communities pulled together, getting things cleaned up and returning to some sense of normality, likewise the port community rallied together to get things moving again.

We all cheered at the height of the Brisbane floods when the "Little Tug that Could", the mighty Mavis and crew guided a massive section of the river-walkway safely under the Gateway Bridge after threatening to smash into its pylons. Personally, I was also happy to see it guided safely past the many beautiful boats moored at Rivergate Marina.

The overall immediate operational responsibility for the Port of Brisbane lies with the Harbour Master. I can say from personal observation that he and his team at Maritime Safety Queensland have, since even before the floodwaters arrived, worked tirelessly to ensure the protection of port users, infrastructure and to see it reopened as soon as possible. They, of course, have not been alone, supported in a large part by the Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd survey teams and dredging fleet, pilots, boat crews, tug crews, Royal Australian Navy, Police and rescue groups, and many others.

Unlike some, in Brisbane we were fortunate enough to have some warning of the imminent flood. Ships pilots and their assisting vessels, such as tugs, pilot launches and line launches, were already dealing with large amounts of debris and exceptional currents in the river due to extended rain periods and releases from Wivenhoe Dam.

The day before the predicted flood peak, pilot representatives met with the Harbour Master to discuss the developing situation and the decision was made to close the port and commence the final removal of large commercial shipping from the port.

Conditions in the Port of Brisbane were rapidly deteriorating. Extreme currents and debris increased the risks involved in the handling of large ships in the confined areas of the port towards unacceptable levels. Late in the night, the last of the ships were safely removed to the anchorage. Similarly, smaller commercial vessels such as the CityCat and RiverFerrys were progressively removed from the River to safety as were many private craft.

The peaks of the flood arrived over the next two days from January 12, with the focus on rescue, protection of infrastructure and recovery of large debris. Each day, key port stakeholders met planning the recovery phase, while continuing to manage the ongoing events.

PASSING PARADE
One owner requested authorities be on the lookout for his pride-and-joy, last seen floating downriver still sitting safely atop its pontoon. It was later found still attached to the pontoon, but upside down. Strong moorings! He was by no means alone.

After the peaks had past, the port recovery operation began in earnest with the commencement of hydographic surveys and checks on port infrastructure, including wharves, beacons, buoys and leading lights. This was carefully planned to target the areas required for the priority shipping.

Hydrographic surveys using state-of-the-art multi-beam equipment covered more than 1000 hectares of port waters in just a few days. This revealed 62 objects of significant concern, like sunken vessels, numerous large trees, gas cylinders, mooring blocks etc., each potentially posing a threat to shipping. These objects were identified and prioritised for removal.

Surveys also revealed a layer of silt had been deposited across the seabed in the port area, significantly reducing navigable depths by the best part of a metre in the main port section. It is estimated that there is 1,000,000m³ of dredging to be undertaken to return the port back to its pre-flood depths. The Navy also pitched in with a significant fleet of survey vessels and mine hunters, including HMAS Leeuwin, Huon, Shepparton and Paluma checking the more open bay areas and the river reaches up to the Moggil Ferry.

Floating debris was as much as possible corralled to designated areas, where it could be accessed by shore-side machinery and disposed of. Where this was not possible, workboats were used. To date, some 74 significant items have been removed from the seabed, approximately 200 boats and more than 400 pontoons collected with varying amounts of damage.

Surveys and the clean-up continued in the priority area and planning began to bring in the first large ship, a 250m long by 42m beam crude oil tanker. This ship was safely brought into the port on Sunday, January 16, ensuring the refineries could continue their production and supply fuels vital for the recovery of the entire State. The Fisherman Island container terminals reopened the next day with some restrictions. Survey vessels continually checked reopened areas as debris was still coming down the river that could potentially endanger shipping.

All and in the Port of Brisbane, major shipping was closed for just four days, with a careful progressive reopening after that time. CityCats and CityFerrys have also resumed operations from the majority of their terminals despite receiving extensive damage to facilities. Likewise the Moggil ferry is back in action.

LIGHTER SIDE OF CALAMITY
On a side note, it was great to see the sense of humour displayed by some under awful circumstances. Despite having lost his home, one man was happy to find some clean socks inside his ruined washing machine. I think he even had a pair, which made it all the more remarkable.

In another street, a mother was returning to her flooded home with reporters in tow. She opened the door to her son’s room to reveal a scene of utter muddy devastation. In a conciliatory tone, the reporter expresses her shock at the scene to which the mother replied, "No this is normal…"

COUNTING THE COST
The floods and Cyclone Yasi
Final numbers are not in yet, but across the state of Qld, Club Marine says it has a total of 126 claims reported from the floods and Cyclone Yasi.

The claims include 60 boats in Cardwell’s Port Hinchinbrook alone, where at least 13 boats were completely destroyed. Early estimates are that the leading Australian pleasureboat insurer will pay a total of $6.5 million to its members affected by the storm.

On February 21, Club Marine said it finalised the majority of its two-week salvage operations of boats damaged and destroyed by Category 5 Cyclone Yasi that devastated Port Hinchinbrook Marina on February 3.

As the recovery phase concludes, Club Marine said the focus now shifts to expediting claims and fast-tracking the repair of affected boats.

Club Marine said recovery work began on Sunday, February 6 and were focussed in Port Hinchinbrook, the area most affected by the cyclone. Led by Club Marine’s national claims manager, Phil Johnson, his team set-up operations, working in conjunction and leading the other insurance companies involved.

Club Marine CEO, Greg Fisher credited the company’s Event Response Plan as the major factor behind the company’s timely response to the storm.

"Even before Cyclone Yasi reached landfall in Northern Queensland, Club Marine’s Event Response Team was coping with the fallout of the storm," said Fisher.

"Experienced teams of marine assessors, salvage crews, crane operators and diving companies in Qld were contacted and were standing by, while at Club Marine headquarters in Melbourne, additional claims officers were brought in to handle the extra volume of calls," he said.

According to Johnson, his team was dealing with a scale of destruction few had seen before. "It was easily the biggest single disaster I’ve encountered in terms of total boats destroyed and damaged," he said. "The sheer scale of the damage and the huge pile of boats washed up on top of each other was something I’ve never seen before. We knew we had our work cut out for us as soon as we arrived at the scene."

Club Marine said the recovery team’s arrival in Port Hinchinbrook preceded the arrival of the majority of the disaster relief workers. Immediately, the team began the delicate work of extricating the damaged boats piled on top of each other.

As the boats were removed, Club Marine said on-site assessments were conducted, ensuring that those which received light damage were immediately repaired and returned to the water, while boats that were more severely damaged were transferred to repair facilities locally or moved to shipwrights in Cairns or Townsville.

Photos: A ketch lies on its side following January's Brisbane River floods; The Port of Brisbane was back in action only days after peak-flood; All manner of flotsam and jetsam, like this gas cylinder, littered the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay in the flood's aftermath; More wrecked boats; The latest in hydrographic imaging was employed to locate submerged wreckage; Little was spared in the flood, even large
sections of riverbank walkways;
Wrecked boats at Port Hinchinbrook following Cyclone Yasi.

 


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