Alumnus, Terry O’Brien recognised for his global impact

Highly decorated Melbourne School of Engineering Alumnus, Dr Terry O’Brien, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his distinguished service to maritime engineering.

This recent recognition comes after a long string of well-deserved accolades for the 80-year old International Executive Director of OMC International. In 2010 he was awarded an OAM for his services to the maritime industry and in November 2014 he received the shipping industry’s most esteemed recognition- induction into the Australian Maritime Hall of Fame for his global impact.

Terry’s interest in Engineering was sparked at a young age. In Year 11 he became captivated by the accuracy required to install the 400 yard London Olympic Games running track. This initial interest in surveying soon developed into a passion for engineering more broadly and the great societal challenges that it can help overcome. Terry’s early focus on civil engineering saw him spend some time immediately after his studies, supervising the construction of roads and the design of several bridges over the Wimmera River near Horsham.

It was only after completing his PhD that Terry developed a fascination with waves, currents and ship motions.

Terry is now regarded a world expert in accurately calculating (to the centimetre), how close to the seabed a ship can sail without touching the bottom. His e-Navigation system is the only one on the planet that has a proven capacity to predict in real-time, the critical vertical component of navigation during transit which determines maximum cargo ships can carry safely. This idea was born in the 60’s where he spent time working on a solution to the deep water mooring of ships loading phosphate ore in the deep water of Nauru and Christmas Island.

Terry established OMC International in 1987 from his home office in converted stables. Almost three decades later, OMC has advised 131, 240 sailings and continues to maximise the cargo-carrying capacity of large ships while ensuring safe navigation through shallow waterways, river systems and port approach channels. Terry’s son Peter is now CEO to a team of over forty, including 27 maritime and software engineers, nine of whom are Melbourne School of Engineering graduates.

Terry has a long affiliation with the University of Melbourne, graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering in 1961 before moving on to complete his PhD in Science Engineering in 1967 and subsequently working in the School of Engineering and the School of Environmental Planning for 22 years from 1965 to 1986.

Terry reflects on his career fondly and is proud not only of his contribution to the field of marine technology and the economic and safety benefits his work has generated, but also the opportunities his work has offered young engineering graduates. “One of the great things about it has been opening up a new area in maritime engineering, a specialised area based on a particular idea and being able to increase efficiencies and safety by using computer technology and real time measurement of waves, tides and currents. Associated with that is opportunities for many young graduates to do work they wouldn’t have had if we hadn’t got this business going.”

With a new project sending him to Mozambique for the latter part of July, Terry shows no signs of slowing down. When he’s not heading up OMC international or spending time with PIANC and IALA working groups to set world standards for ship navigation and channel design, Terry enjoys spending time with his six kids (three of whom have senior positions at the University of Melbourne and affiliated health institutions) and 20 grandchildren and raising vealers and fat lambs on his family property at Penshurst in Western Victoria.

The Melbourne School of Engineering would like to congratulate Terry on his most recent award and a career of incredible achievements.

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