MUA Congratulates Denmark For Refusing To Handle Australian Toxic Waste

The Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary and President of the International Transport Workers' Federation, Paddy Crumlin, has congratulated the Danish Government for refusing to accept toxic waste shipments from Australia after unions repeatedly voiced concern over the plan.

Mr Crumlin said the Danish decision was a victory for common sense over the scheme to load the hazardous chemical waste from the Orica site at Port Botany and ship it for disposal in Denmark.

"The first shipment of this toxic waste was due to leave tomorrow, so we would like to thank all of the unions involved who lobbied hard for this outcome," he said.

On behalf of the drivers at the Australian end of the operation, State Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Wayne Forno, said: "Ensuring that risk assessment is carried out on the driving route and risks associated with it for our drivers, we support the MUA in totality."

Mr Crumlin added: "There needs to be a long term solution thought out for this issue. It is not good enough to ship hazardous chemical waste around the globe - there are enormous risks involved."

Mr Crumlin also said Orica had confirmed that it would be required to accept the return of the waste if it was not destroyed for any reason.

He said the Beluga Fascination, currently berthed at Port Botany, had been chartered to transport the waste to Denmark.

"First and foremost we need greater assurance that there is absolutely no risk to the health and safety of our members in loading this cargo, those transporting it and others unloading it at the conclusion of its journey," Mr Crumlin said.

"This is particularly important given we risk having to double handle the cargo. Dock workers in Denmark are currently exercising their right to refuse to unload the goods at the other end of the journey.

"MUA workers will not load the cargo if we risk having to unload it again in a few months time. A worse scenario still, the Beluga Fascination could face the prospect of sailing the globe searching in vain for a port that will accept the cargo."

Mr Crumlin said there had been numerous cases of ships laden with toxic material, traipsing the globe for a port that will accept their load in recent years.

"Invariably, a developing nation under corrupt or naive leadership ends up holding the can - with catastrophic impacts on innocent civilians," he said.

In 2006, the Probo Koala, carrying toxic waste, was redirected from the Port of Amsterdam after the company contracted for its disposal refused to unload it.

After a desperate search, the waste was eventually dumped in the Ivory Coast, where there were no facilities to safely unload or treat the material.

In a tragic result, after being dumped at 12 separate sites across the country, the waste reportedly led to the deaths of 17 people and injured 30,000.

"Until it can be guaranteed that the Beluga Fascination will be safely unloaded and its cargo treated at an appropriate facility, it would be irresponsible for us to consider loading the cargo here in Sydney. Hoping that the matter is resolved in transit is grossly negligent," Mr Crumlin said.

Mr Crumlin said the unions were also concerned that Beluga Fascination, which is registered in Antigua and Barbuda, is a flag of convenience vessel and not covered by an international collective agreement.

"The Beluga Fascination is a ship of shame. The ship is unregulated and its crew are most likely working for poor wages and could be subject to pitiful working conditions. We have no idea whether the crew is sufficiently trained and resourced to handle such sensitive cargo.

"It's simply ludicrous that a ship scheduled to carry a cargo of such importance is not covered by an agreement.

"Consequently, the MUA is insisting on two separate inspections.

"The Australian Maritime Safety Authority needs to inspect this vessel to ensure, from a technical perspective, it is up-to-scratch, and the ITF needs to inspect the vessel to ensure the mariners aboard are up to the task.

"And until Orica can guarantee the material will be safely unloaded and appropriately treated, it is pointless and reckless to load the ship," Mr Crumlin said.

In 1986, the Liberian registered Khian Sea was loaded with more than 14,000 tons of toxic ash from waste incinerators in the USA. Over the next 16 months, it searched all over the Atlantic for a place to dump its cargo and the Dominican RepublicHondurasPanamaBermudaGuinea Bissau and the Dutch Antillesall refused. In January 1988, the crew finally dumped 4,000 tons of the waste near Gonaives in Haiti, and the rest of the shipment disappeared en route from Singapore to Sri Lanka in November 1988.

In another case, the former French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, full of asbestos and other toxic chemicals, was decommissioned in 1997. In 2005 it was bound for ship breaking yards in India, but it was halted in Egypt after protests and dismantling did not start until 2009 in the United Kingdom.

Media contacts: Paddy Crumlin 0418 379 660; Justin Coomber 0457 833 896; Tanie Sansey, TWU 9912 0703 / 0410 525 869, Zoe Reynolds, 0417 229873