In a troubling report some 50 ships have been detained in the Port of Newcastle in the past three years for defects that include faults with equipment that prevents the discharging of oily waste into the ocean
According to the report in the Newcastle Herald, all of the vessels were foreign-flagged and most were coal ships, and were detained in the port for a few hours to about 11 days.
A number were delayed from leaving the harbour because of the detentions.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the statistics were alarming and said Australia's shipping industry had to be rebuilt after being decimated by a decade of inaction by the Howard Govt, with fewer than 50 Australian-registered ships in service.
"2010 is the year the Government needs to make decisions to refloat the shipping, providing real incentive for investment in new ships. At the same time we need to exercise tighter controls on flag of convenience vessels. What's happening in Newcastle is environmental vandalism", Crumlin said.
National International Transport Workers Federation Co-ordinator Dean Summers said that while the number of detained vessels was low compared to the thousands that visit the port, the ITF Federation saw the defects as concerning and said more surveyors were needed as only a small portion of vessels moving through the country's ports were inspected.
The authority has three full-time surveyors in Newcastle. Last year it inspected 347 vessels in Newcastle, up from 286 in 2008. Vessels are targeted on risk categories.
The Federation also wants the Commonwealth to prevent "flag of convenience" vessels, which fly the flag of a country other than the country of ownership, from carrying high-risk cargoes in Australian waters, arguing the vessels are often sub-standard.
In two of the more serious cases of last year, the Megah Tiga, a flag of convenience vessel, and the Achilles, both carrying ammonium nitrate, were declared unseaworthy after the Maritime Union tipped off the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Another ship loaded with ammonium nitrate in Newcastle, the Pacific Adventurer, was declared unseaworthy when it arrived in Brisbane in March last year after enduring gales and spilling 31 containers of the substance and 270 tonnes of oil off the Queensland coast.
Since October 2006 to November last year, 53 vessels have been detained in Newcastle following inspections, according to safety authority figures.
Data for last month was unavailable.
The detentions were for defects that included faults with lifeboats' release mechanisms, engine-room fire dampers, which prevent air entering a particular space, wasted cargo hatch covers and poor maintenance.