Disaster Averted On Reef As ITF Calls For Action

With the country in election mode the fact that a major shipping disaster in the Great Barrier Reef was averted went virtualy unmentioned. The ITF is calling for the introduction of the Shipping Reforms ASAP.

With another major shipping disaster averted on the Great Barrier Reef last week the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) says it’s not a matter of if, but when, a visiting Ship of Shame causes another major shipping catastrophe.

“As the Federal Election dominated the headlines last week we came very close to another major shipping disaster. It’s more reason for the Government to introduce the package of reforms to revitalise Australian shipping as urgently as possible”, said ITF Co-Coordinator in Australia, Dean Summers.

The 65,000 tonne Ocean Emperor, a Flag of Convenience (FOC) bulk carrier or so-called  Ship of Shame, had been drifting off the Reef off Cairns with mechanical problems for 8 days and came within a few kilometres of being grounded on the reef.

The vessel had left Hay Point in Queensland on June 27 carrying a load of coal for the BMC group (BHP Mitsui Coal) bound for Singapore and Japan. The ship has experienced mechanical problems for most of the 5 weeks since.

Liable for our Environment

“Ships like the Ocean Emperor are a liability for our environment and truly are Ships of Shame. The vessel is flagged in Liberia so it avoids paying tax and is owned by a Greek company which has an abysmal record for poor ship maintenance and offering substandard wages and conditions to crew”, said Summers.

 “The ITF calls on the big mining exporters like RioTinto and BHP to take more responsibility for the vessels coming to their huge export terminals. Pressure from these companies can influence the standard of international shipping and put a stop to the worst FOC operators and those with no regard for the Australian environment.

 “We complain when Australian military and emergency resources are used to rescue a single distressed sailor but these rogue operators and their ships have the potential to be far, far more damaging to our environment and national interest. They don’t pay tax and pay a pittance to crew unless the ITF intervenes”, he said.

 The vessel had engine failure 60 nautical miles off Cairns and had to be assisted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) tugs, crewed by Australian unionized crews, in her passage through the Great Barrier Reef to a point outside the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.

 AMSA has accused its owners of not taking responsibility for the vessel. The authority was concerned the ship might drift onto the Reef, particularly given its continuing mechanical failure, so placed an intervention order on her.

Absolute Priority

The grounding of the foreign-owned Sheng Neng 1 on the reef in May brought home the potential damage foreign shipping can do to the Australian environmental icon. 

“It makes the introduction of the reforms the Federal Government is considering an absolute priority. The reforms are expected to include fiscal measures like a tonnage tax and accelerated depreciation of ships, which will provide real incentive for investment in new Australian ships and make the men and women who crew them more competitive. It will help restore control over shipping up and down our coastlines”, said Summers.