The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) is pushing for a Australian senate inquiry into flag of convenience (FOC) shipping following a damning exposé on Australia’s Four Corners television programme into three deaths at sea on board the MV Sage Sagittarius.
The call follows the ITF’s recent condemnation of the conservative Australian government’s moves to deregulate its shipping industry by the removal of cabotage, or rules which encourage investment in the local industry. It warned that this would weaken labour and safety standards and regulation and threaten thousands of domestic jobs in the maritime sector.
Four Corners focused on the deaths of two Filipino nationals – chief cook Cesar Llanto and chief engineer Hector Collado – and Japanese superintendent Kosaku Monji on board the Panama-flagged coal carrier in 2012.
A coroner’s inquest into two of the deaths, which began last week in Sydney, heard that guns were being sold on board and that assaults on and intimidation of the crew were widespread. It also heard that the three crew members most likely met with foul play.
ITF Australia national co-ordinator Dean Summers, who is a party to the inquest, said: “Four Corners highlighted the high cost of cheap shipping. We need a senate Inquiry to investigate the real dangers of flag of convenience shipping, as it poses a real and serious threat to Australia’s national security, environment and fuel security, as well to the lives and welfare of international seafarers.
“This is not a new issue. The Australian Parliament investigated the inhumane treatment of international seafarers through the 1992 Ships of Shame report and, unfortunately, it seems little has changed.”
Arrangements surrounding crimes committed at sea were also investigated by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs following the death of Diane Brimble in 2002 on board the cruise ship Pacific Sky.
Committee chair George Christenson MP said in a media release on November 27, 2014 that “Committee members are seriously concerned about the substance of the response” from the government.
ITF president Paddy Crumlin said of the attacks on cabotage: “These changes would lead to domestic job losses and a reduction of standards and conditions for workers as Australia actively embraces a race to the bottom on shipping and aviation. They would dismantle a comprehensive reform package delivered by the previous government three years ago that created a level playing field in domestic shipping.”
He added: “It seems deputy prime minister Warren Truss wants to make ships of shame the new normal rather than the extreme exception. This could spell disaster on a number of fronts – maritime jobs, skills, fuel security, maritime security – and pose a threat to the environment. There could also be a significant impact on the offshore oil and gas sector, with the result being limited visa regulations and oversight.
“We expect the government to put up legislation before our parliament in the first half of this year and we’re gearing up for a fight.”
Paddy Crumlin also pointed out that cabotage is a normal way to deliver domestic freight securely, safely and predictably for many maritime nations including the United States, Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Sage Sagittarius is not an isolated incident. Just last week, it was reported that a seafarer is presumed dead after falling overboard off the coast of Papua New Guinea on 14 May from another coal ship en route to Newcastle, the Korean-flagged K Pride. In addition, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said last week it cannot afford to clean up all the toxic mess from the Shen Neng One, a Chinese bulk coal carrier which ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010.