Pandora's Box

MELBOURNE, Saturday, October 24: A container ship sails out of the harbour into open water with five-high stacks of containers balanced precariously on its deck.


Despite protests from the workers at East Swanson Dock, the boxes were not lashed. The gang were still working securing the boxes when the order came that the MSC Krittikawas set to sail regardless. “We had two to three bays to go – around 13 boxes, five high,” said Sammy Puskic, MUA waterside worker. “Only two were lashed on one bay. It’s dangerous. Who knows what was in the containers? It could have been chemicals that would have contaminated the bay. We said we were not prepared to leave the ship unfinished. But we wereordered off by the supervisor and the ship’s captain.”

Sam and his workmates followed the order, but notified the union. They reported a full bay was not completed but the six lashers were ordered to cease all work and disembark. “It put lives at risk,” said Sammy. “If there’s rough seas and the crew is trying to lash containers five high, you could end up with a man overboard. But some of those shipping owners don’t give a shit. A bloke goes overboard and they just pick up someone else at the next port. Who knows what goes on?”

“The end of the day, lives are at risk,” said one worker who asked not to be named. “Dockworkers’ lives, seafarers’ lives and the lives of people in the harbour. If the ship gets a nice big jerk from the tug, boxes can come off. If you are going out the Heads it gets quite rough and you can get them coming off there too. Boxes can fall into the water, onto the wharf or onto recreational boats in the harbour.”

Or worse, you can end up with an environmental catastrophe, like when containers of ammonia nitrate came off the Pacific Venturer in March 2009 in heavy seas, putting a hole in the hull of the ship and spilling 30 tonnes of heavy oil 20 kilometres along our coastline.

“It’s a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Ships sailing with containers loose on deck are dangerous – to dock workers, seafarers, the public who use the harbour and to our environment. We had lashers on board ready to secure the last bay and they were instructed to get off the ship – they had no choice.” The International Transport Workers’ Federation has long demanded that lashing work be done in port by trained workers. But ship owners often attempt to save money and time by sailing out of the harbour, then getting crew to secure the cargo at sea.

So when the Krittikasailed into the port of Nelson in New Zealand, the local union took action. At the time MUNZ was holding its national conference with international guests from the US West Coast, Australia and Europe. The Krittikasat in the harbour for the day, while the world’s dockworkers and the local ITF representative made their point. “It again demonstrates the importance of the international dock workers movement,” MUA National Secretary and ITF Dock Workers Chair, Paddy Crumlin told conference.

“I was there as an MUA delegate to the conference,” said Dave Schleibs. “Bobby Patchett rang me to let me know the ship was coming in. I spoke to Gary Parsloe and Russel Mayne. Ray Familathe, ILWU was there from the States. We visited the ship. The master gave his full commitment that seafarers would not be doing the work again and stevedoring went ahead.” “It’s bad enough lashing on the dock let alone open ocean,” said one Melbourne worker. “The instability is incredible – lifting up three high bars when the ship’s moving. Seafarers have got a tough job; let’s not make it any tougher. Dockworkers are trained to do the work and want to do it safely.”