Vessel Traffic Service Operator
Maritime Safety Queensland
The geographical area monitored by Maritime Safety Queensland is one of the largest in the world.
“Townsville is unique in that beyond being responsible for shipping activities throughout the ports of Townsville, Lucinda and Abbot Point, the Queensland Government also provides Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) operations for the Great Barrier Reef,” says VTS operator for Maritime Safety Queensland Tony Guilfoyle.
“All vessels over 50m from the Papua New Guinea border down to Fraser Island are required to report to ReefVTS. We monitor the ships’ locations in real time through satellite to ensure safe passage throughout the reef.”
Port shipping movements and the 50-odd ships in the Reef area ensures no night is boring for Tony, whose roster consists of two day shifts followed by two night shifts. At night, Tony and his colleagues take over the radio watch from the Coast Guard for regular pleasure craft and are always listening out for mayday calls.
“I’ll never forget one night shift when, in the early hours of the morning, I received a mayday call with four people on board, including a three-year-old girl,” Tony says. “There was such panic on board the vessel that I had to remind the occupants to put on their life jackets. Their boat was taking on water and about to sink in rough conditions.”
Tony managed to get some valuable information to the crew before the vessel sunk and he lost all communication.
“With assistance from the Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra and the Townsville Water Police, the crew were safely pulled from the water and back on land within a few hours,” Tony says.
“The water police brought them back to our base and I can still remember seeing the little girl clinging to her mum as the ambulance took them away for examination.
“To think how scared she must’ve been in the shark-infested water in the dark. It was extremely satisfying to know you may have helped save someone from a tragic situation.”
We always hope for a quiet night but it can change in a flash. Whether it’s an incident with a vessel or a medical emergency, there’s always work to do.
Tony has been working with Vessel Traffic Services for seven years and a phrase he often hears and likes is ‘Guardians of the Reef’.
“It’s not an official term for our role but I think it’s true of what we do,” Tony says.
“Our night shifts are 12-hour shifts and go from 6pm to 6am. We always hope for a quiet night but it can change in a flash. Whether it’s an incident with a vessel or a medical emergency, there’s always work to do.”