Plans to scuttle the HMAS Adelaide off the Australian coast north of Sydney, off Avoca beach, are postponed

HMAS Adelaide will remain in Sydney Harbour for the time being, after the New South Wales Government was forced to cancel its plans to scuttle the decommissioned frigate this weekend.

The Adelaide was due to be towed from Sydney Harbour today and sunk off Avoca beach on the central coast as a diving attraction.

But campaigners have been trying to stop it going ahead, saying it will pollute the water.

An 11th-hour stay of proceedings by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has put plans to sink the ship on hold.

There was a family beach festival organised to coincide with the sinking, but the PR company managing the event says all festivities have been called off.

A spokesman for the Avoca Beach No Ship Action Group, Ben Smith, says they are happy the case will be heard in court.

"It's still not over yet. We've still got a lot of work to do," he said.

Dr Marian Lloyd-Smith, a senior adviser to the National Toxic Network, says dangerous chemicals are supposed to be removed from ships before they are scuttled, and she does not think that has happened with the Adelaide.

"Electrical cables that show any evidence of fluid weeping must be removed in their entirety," she said.

"Well we have photos of quite a nasty, viscous substance seeping from these electrical cables still on board and that would go down with the ship."

The Minister with responsibility for the project, Tony Kelly, says the tribunal's decision will come as a blow to many.

"This is terribly disappointing for those people on the central coast who worked so hard and so long to make this a reality," he said.

At a hearing this morning the Government told the tribunal that it is worried about the HMAS Adelaide sitting in Sydney Harbour for an extended period because it already has holes cut into it and explosives on board, ready to be scuttled.

The matter will return to court late next month where it could be referred to a mediator.

The demolitions expert responsible for the scuttling says the explosives will probably be removed while the case is resolved.

HMAS Adelaide was the navy ship involved in the 2001 children overboard affair. It was decommissioned in Perth in 2008.
The decommissioned warship HMAS Adelaide is due to be scuttled off the New South Wales central coast to create an artificial reef and dive site.

But the sinking, due in just a few weeks, has angered some residents of the nearby Avoca Beach, who fear contamination from toxic chemicals such as PCBs.

The State Government says the ship has been thoroughly prepared for sinking and independent tests have found no traces of PCBs on board.

Gary Whittaker, a local carpenter who has surfed at the beach for years, says it is a popular spot.

"Avoca's a fantastic place to surf," he said. "The beach breaks at Avoca are as consistent as anywhere on the east coast."

But Mr Whittaker is worried his beloved beach could be spoiled when the HMAS Adelaide is scuttled less than two kilometres offshore.

"I really don't think dumping scrap metal in the ocean is appropriate in 2010. It sounds like a real 1950s solution," he said.

Avoca Boardriders president Anthony Love is also concerned.

"Hopefully it doesn't change the sand patterns of our beach because that's close to my heart - some of the best beaches on the coast," he said.

Residents have formed the Avoca Beach No Ship Action Group. Its spokesman Ben Smith says the environment and businesses could suffer.

"Avoca Beach is a, a very popular tourist beach," he said.

"We have thousands of visitors here every year and a lot of our businesses base their livelihoods on that and we can't afford to risk that.

"There could be, I'm saying could be, PCBs within the fibreglass bulkheads and the decking that remains as part of the structure integrity of the ship.

"We could be eating fish with PCBs on board."

But that is a claim Lands Minister Tony Kelly is quick to counter.

"We had an independent assessment and tests done and it's found that there are no traces of PCBs on the vessel," he said.

"This is a dive site where people will actually be diving and going inside the ship.

"So not only do we not want any to escape - we don't want any contaminants to be on the ship for the safety of the people who are actually going and diving through it."

Environmental benefits

There are five other such dive sites around Australia.

HMAS Brisbane was scuttled in 2005, north of the city it was named after.

The old ship rests off Mooloolaba and is home to many marine species. It is also a magnet for divers.

Clean Up Australia founder and chairman Ian Kiernan says the scuttling of ships can benefit the environment.

"Scuttling of the ships has been done before and in a lot of instances it's benefited the environment through the creation of artificial reefs," he said.

"But it is absolutely critical that every possible step is taken to ensure that there is absolutely no environmental damage to the local marine area."

Mr Kiernan says he is not qualified to comment on the Adelaide at this stage but is seeking his own expert independent advice.

"In the meantime I adhere to the precautionary principle," he said.

"It's critical that everything possible is being done to ensure this beautiful area is protected."

Federal MP Belinda Neal, whose electorate includes Avoca Beach, said she was not in a position to do an interview today.