The Maritime Union of Australia says Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement to spend $60 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef against coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish and farm run-off conveniently ignores the risk posed by unsafe Flag of Convenience (FOC) shipping.
Cheap foreign flagged ships are one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef and urgent action needs to be taken now by the Government to prevent another major environmental disaster.
Yet the Turnbull Government still has a Bill before the Parliament that would allow more FOC vessels to operate on the Australian coast and increase the risk of environmental catastrophe.
MUA National Secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation President Paddy Crumlin said while minor funding to address coral bleaching announced by Malcom Turnbull is welcome, the Government needs to bolster the 2012 Coastal Trading Act rather than dilute it.
“Hundreds of FOC ships pass through the Great Barrier Reef each year,” Crumlin said.
“These ships present a clear and ongoing major environmental risk to one of Australia’s greatest natural assets. Every day we roll the dice and risk reckless damage to our pristine coastline.
“The recent Senate Inquiry Into Flag of Convenience Shipping found that unlike Australian seafarers, foreign crews have no background checks yet they are carrying petroleum products, ammonium nitrate and LNG around the Australian coast.
“Exploited crew on Flag of Convenience vessels earn as little as $1.25 an hour, generally have inferior training compared to Australian seafarers and are often unaware of our fragile coastal environment.
“They do not meet the same national security screening applied to Australian resident seafarers and are directly making Australian seafarers unemployed by effectively taking their jobs through the FOC industry of rorting, poor safety standards and tax evasion.”
“Australian workers cannot and should not be expected to compete with slave labour and systemic tax avoidance under the Flag of Convenience system.”
In 2010, the 225-metre long, fully laden Shen Neng 1 ran aground at Douglas Shoal, East of Rockhampton, causing the biggest and worst direct impact on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
The bulk carrier carved a 3-kilometre long scar onto the Douglas Shoal, severely damaging and destroying 115,000sq-metres, spewing toxic anti-fouling paint on the reef.
The Chinese owner, Shenzhen Energy Transport Co Ltd, and its insurer initially refused to accept responsibility and pay for the clean-up bill and thumbed their noses at the Federal Government’s push for damages for more than six years.
“This was a prime example of shipping’s race to the bottom. By deregulating shipping, we put at risk national security, fuel security, our pristine environment and the world-best skills and training of the Australian shipping industry workforce,” Crumlin said.