A report on the general situation in the Australian tugboat industry can be found in the AIMPE Annual Reports section of this website.

Australia's international trade is dominated by exports of bulk commodities - particularly iron ore and coal. The ships taking these cargoes to their destinations (mainly north east Asia) are very large vessels. They require the assistance of powerful tugs on arrival into port, to assist on departure and at other times too. Here is a slideshow of tugs from around the coast:

AustralianTugs in action

Click on an image to enlarge


Svitzer National Tug Dispute

During late 2015 and early 2016 AIMPE was engaged in a dispute with Australia's largest tugboat operator - Svitzer. Svitzer is part of the Maersk-Moller international conglomerate.

AIMPE was demanding the retention of a separate Enterprise Agreement for the 180 or so Tug engineers employed by Svitzer in Australia.

AIMPE media release 06 & 11 Jan 2016 re Svitzer stoppage can be viewed here: Svitzer tug engineers vote to take protected action (89.07 KB) and here: Tug engineers stoppage to escalate Tug engineers stoppage to escalate (23.64 KB)

The result of the dispute was effectively determined by the vote of the total Svitzer tugboat workforce. AIMPE members were outvoted by the tugmasters

and deckhands who followed their unions' instructions. Despite AIMPE's submissions to the contrary, the Fair Work Commission approved the Svitzer National Agreement which now covers all tug personnel - Tug Engineers,

Tugmasters and Deckhands. The decision can be found here: Svitzer_Australia__National_Towage_Enterprise_Agreement_2016_decision_10_02_16__CPYE206491358CFF68337840CD2C413D6131706917266.pdf Svitzer_Australia__National_Towage_Enterprise_Agreement_2016_decision_10_02_16__CPYE206491358CFF68337840CD2C413D6131706917266.pdf (832.70 KB)

AIMPE continues to pursue separate Enterprise Agreements with all employers.

Smit Gladstone Dispute

AIMPE has been fighting another dispute in the tug sector recently - this one has been with Smit in the port of Gladstone. Smit is part of the Boskalis group of companies.

In Australia they have been operating the tugs in Gladstone for several years since ousting Svitzer through a port tendering process.

However in 2015 Smit Lamnalco purchased PB Towage which had operations in NSW, Queensland and Victoria.

Subsequently Smit entered an arrangement with Svitzer which saw Smit cease to operate tugs in the major East coast ports of Melbourne, sydney and Newcastle.

In May 2016 Smit announced that they wanted to transfer their Gladstone employees from a Smit Marine company to a Smit Lamnalco company. In the process they also wanted to make some changes. Some were good and some not so good.

AIMPE suggested a 12 month roll-over of the Gladstone Engineers Agreement.

Smit rejected this proposal.

Smit persisted with an application to go ahead with their transfer and change conditions plan.

AIMPE opposed the application by Smit to change the terms of employment applying to the Gladstone Engineers.

It was not possible to resolve the differences and so the matter was heard and determined by the Fair Work Commission.

The decision was in AIMPE's favour. The FWC decided that it was not acceptable to make the changes that Smit sought. So the existing conditions enjoyed by the Gladstone Engineers will continue to apply.

The decision can be read here:

Smit_Lamnalco_transfer_application_decision__17_08_16___045C54B5F1A9B6341BB40655B327750C16822_docx.pdf Smit_Lamnalco_transfer_application_decision__17_08_16___045C54B5F1A9B6341BB40655B327750C16822_docx.pdf (169.58 KB)


A number of developments in recent times have brought into focus the very old business structure of the partnership. Both developments occurred in Western Australia and both arose in the tug sector. Firstly BHP Billiton entered into an arrangement with Riverside group entity Rivtow to operate 4 tugboats which had previously been planned to be operated by Teekay. Rivtow soon declared that it was going to use the “partnership model” to operate the 4 tugboats. Subsequently in late 2015 BHP decided to grant all of its tugboat operations in Port Hedland to Rivtow. This was fully implemented by mid 2016. Rivtow operates the tugs without dedicated deckhands - it uses three officers.

Secondly in January 2015 Svitzer announced that it was going to adopt the partnership model to carry out its long term contract to deliver towage services to the LNG ships which will carry the cargoes of gas being exported by Chevron out of Barrow Island. Despite reaching an agreement with the 3 maritime unions for a new Greenfields Enterprise Agreement for the Wheatstone LNG tugs, Svitzer announced in mid-2016 that it was extending its partnership model to these new tugs too.

Western Australian law applies to these partnerships. In particular the Partnership Act 1895 applies because both operations are within WA state waters. There are plenty of fascinating details in this 19th century law but the most significant fact of all is that the Fair Work Act 2009 of the Commonwealth does not apply [unless the partnership decides to become an employer and take on some employees].

To read more on this story go to:ON_WATCH__MAY_2015_ARTICLE_Partnerships_v2.pdf ON_WATCH__MAY_2015_ARTICLE_Partnerships_v2.pdf (130.35 KB)

For more detail on the relevant provisions of the WA Partnership Act 1985 go to: ON_WATCH_MAY_2015__Partnership_Act_1895_Western_Australia_EXTRACTS.pdf ON_WATCH_MAY_2015__Partnership_Act_1895_Western_Australia_EXTRACTS.pdf (178.95 KB)

AIMPE advises that there are serious risks to individuals who enter into partnerships in the towage sector : ON_WATCH_MAY_2015_Partnership_Pitfalls_article.pdf ON_WATCH_MAY_2015_Partnership_Pitfalls_article.pdf (125.19 KB)

The partnerships article "Chained to the Partners" can be viewed here: Chained to the Partners Chained to the Partners (115.10 KB) 

AIMPE Tug Delegates Conference 2013

A presentation on Australia's Maritime Jurisdiction is available hereAustralia's maritime jurisdiction Australia's maritime jurisdiction (1.43 MB)

Towage industry members & officials at the 2013 Tug Conference.






A presentation by Nathan Niven on delegates training is available here: Tug Conference Delegates Training (234.50 KB)

A presentation by Jim Mallows on STCW is available here: Tug Conference STCW (379.50 KB)