50 year legacy in marine industry leads North Beach man to being appointed a Medal of the Order of Australia


Captain Eric Atkinson, who has been appointed a Medal of the Order of Australia, at Fremantle Ports.
Captain Eric Atkinson, who has been appointed a Medal of the Order of Australia, at Fremantle Ports.

CAPTAIN Eric Atkinson, who has a 50-year legacy in the Australian and international marine industry, has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Coming from a long line of captains in Scotland, the North Beach resident said following in his family’s footsteps seemed the natural thing to do.

“My father was a captain and my grandfather was a captain, so I was told either get off your backside and go to sea or you’re working on the farm,” he said.

“I didn’t particularly want to go out on the farm so I just followed in my family’s footsteps; it just seemed the natural thing to do.”

In the course of his career he has served 10 years in the British Merchant navy, eight years in the Australian maritime offshore oil and gas industry, 10 years as a marine pilot in the Port of Fremantle and 20 years as Harbour Master at the Port of Fremantle, earning him the record for longest serving in the role.

Captain Atkinson said it was the dynamic nature of the role that kept him coming to work each day.

“No two days are the same in the job,” he said.

“To me it means Fremantle is in the forefront of technology and advancement for the future which comes from our isolation; we had to be innovative.”

Captain Atkinson said he was honoured but shocked to be awarded an OAM.

“My wife Denise organised it over the past year; when I got an email from Canberra it I thought it was a scam and didn’t open it,” he said.

Delivering provisions to the people of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy in 1974 was a career memory he said would never leave him.

“We were bringing provisions in because the roads were closed and the place was still in shock; people literally lost everything,” he said.

“I’ve been through typhoons or been in the waters avoiding typhoons but nothing compared to the damage we saw after that.”

Safety in the industry was also a top priority for Captain Atkinson and he pioneered some of the leading safety regulations.

In 2000, a Fremantle Port employee lost his leg when a mooring line whipped around it. Captain Atkinson went to London to present the case for safety regulations for all international ships.

“It took eight years to get any form International Maritime Organisation recognition to put regulations in place because it was going to cost shipping companies money – some countries argued against safety regulation,” he said.

“It was a frustrating battle over eight years but we got there in the end.”

Captain Atkinson has also received an Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese Government and is a guest lecturer at Swinburne University in Melbourne.

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