Rena Oil Spill Reinforces The Need For Comprehensive Shipping Reform

The ‘Rena’ oil spill in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty has reinforced the need for more effective control of the way foreign flagged ships operate on the Australian coast.

The ‘Rena’, a Liberian domiciled ‘Flag of Convenience’ (FoC) ship hit a reef last week, creating a damaging oil spill in pristine waters.

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin, said the disaster highlighted the need for shipping reform as it could just as easily occur on the Australian coast.

“People will recall the grounding of the Pasha Bulker in Newcastle in 2007 and the Shen Neng 1 just east of Great Keppel Island in 2010,” Mr Crumlin said.

“This is a terrible incident and it underscores the urgent need for shipping reform.

“Without better oversight of the ships moving through local waters it's only a matter of time before this type of thing happens again, potentially in Australia.”

The ‘Rena’ is registered in Liberia and is known in the industry as a ‘Flag of Convenience’ ship, because its owners seek to exploit cheaper labour and weaker regulation.

“Liberia is well known for blood diamonds and tax avoidance,” Mr Crumlin said.

The MUA has had concerns about the ‘Rena’ and other FOC ships because they pose a threat to the natural environment, national security and local jobs.

The Union understands that due to legal complications related to the ship’s registration, it took two days for the insurance company to organise the Rena’s salvage.

The situation highlights possible problems between regulatory authorities and insurers, and also the availability of salvage tugs in New Zealand.

"There are real lessons Australia must learn from this disaster.

"The delay between the insurance companies and the regulatory authorities means we may have lost the opportunity to salvage the vessel.

"If you don’t control shipping, it controls you,” Mr Crumlin said.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese last month announced plans for substantial reform of Australia’s shipping industry, to make it more internationally competitive and allow Australian shipping companies to compete on international routes.

The package – provisionally supported by the MUA - has four key elements:

· tax reforms to remove barriers to investment in Australian shipping and to foster the global competitiveness of the shipping industry;

· a simplified three tier licensing framework for participation in the coastal trade;

· establishment of an Australian International Shipping Register to put Australian companies on alevel footing with their international competitors; and

· establishment of a Maritime Workforce Development Forum to progress key maritime skills and training priorities.