Ship Campaign Delivers - New Policy, New Ships, New Govt

Two new ships are set to work in the Australian trade, both replacing older vessels, but both retaining Australian crew – a first for more than a decade.

Two new ships are set to work in the Australian trade, both replacing older vessels, but both retaining Australian crew – a first for more than a decade.

As MWJ went to press the union had reached agreement with Rio Tinto Marine for Australian crew to be employed on board their new vessel RMT Weipa.

The ship is due to start on the coast in October replacing the River Endeavour. At the same time Teekay’s Ocean Protector will replace the former coast guard vessel Oceanic Viking. The Protector was undergoing final touches in Newcastle in September. Both vessels are replacing bulk carriers that are  more than 25 years old.

“Without the government announcing its shipping policy during the campaign, it would  be a very different story,” said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin. “It’s down to Labor making that policy commitment that we are  where we are. Had it been otherwise – had Labor not delivered, or had they lost the election, which they very nearly did, we’d probably be in the same situation on the Viking and the Endeavour, as we were on the Yarra, the Stolt, the Triton and the Fitzroy River – sitting in. We’d probably be fighting against two more ships flagging out, going offshore and coming back on our coast with guest workers.”


The Rio Marine fleet have carted bauxite from Weipa to Gladstone for a quarter of a century on four vessels – River Boyne, River Embley, Fitzroy River and Endeavour River. But all have been retired or are on the path to retirement, with the Fitzroy River leaving the coast last year and the River Endeavour en route to Singapore
after her final sailing on the Australian coast.

With high demand for bauxite in the resources boom in recent years the UK-flagged RTM Weipa came into the Australian trade last year, taking advantage of intrastate Queensland permits. It flew the UK rather than the Australian flag because the UK, not Australia, offered a tonnage tax.

AIMPE and the MUA claimed Rio using intrastate permits was an abuse of the system. Alarms sounded last year when the Rio website carried news that Rio Tinto Marine has taken delivery in Japan of the first of five new bulk carriers costing a total of US$200 million. “Like haul tucks on water, the ships will principally be used for carrying bauxite from the Weipa mine to Gladstone alumina refineries under long term freight contract with Rio Tinto Aluminium,” it read.

“This was a major body blow to Australian shipping,” said Martin Byrne, AIMPE. The Fitzroy River was first to be replaced. It was subject to a dispute last year that led to protracted ACTU-led negotiations with Rio Tinto shipping. The outcome was a framework agreement, whereby the company agreed to crew new vessels with Australian seafarers if the government delivered on shipping reform, including fiscal incentives for ship owners. It was also contingent on the union delivering on labour reform.

Unions reached agreement on a Rio Tinto framework agreement that will see a minimum 70-80 per cent of Rio’s coastal cargoes carried on vessels with Australian crew. The MUA rejected a company proposal to remove the chief caterer.

In September Ian Bray, MUA Assistant Federal Secretary reported that hurdle had been overcome. After National Secretary Paddy Crumlin and Ian Bray met Peter Manion (Rio Tinto) and Grant Hardie (Teekay) Rio has now agreed to a crew of eight, including a chief caterer. This is on the proviso there will be a  crewing review in the first three months of the vessel working in Australia to establish work load, training requirements and other relevant factors to optimise long term Australian crewing to this and further new vessel additions in the trade further talks will take on.

THE MUA crew on the Weipa will now be one CIR, five IRs, one chief cook and one chief caterer. Further talks will take place on trainees and riding gangs. ASP crewing agent is now looking at redundancies in the vicinity of two CIRs, four to eight IRs, two chief stewards and one chief cook,  with members on the Endeavour River given the first option. Teekay have agreed to accept the crew joining the RMT Wiepa if they have the required certificates.

“The vessel management has been awarded to Anglo Eastern and will be managed by their office in Glasgow. This is to take advantage of the UK tonnage tax which provides shipping companies an opportunity to reduce their operating costs via tax relief if they flag their vessels under the UK ensign. It is the same taxation system that the MUA has been lobbying the ALP Government to introduce as part of a comprehensive shipping reform agenda,” said Bray.

Tonnage tax is a key element of the recently announced Labor government shipping policy. Now with the government commitment to the shipping revitalisation package and the ACTU-led negotiations the unions are confident the Rio fleet will eventually fly the Australian flag.

The crew of the Endeavour River sent the following message to National Secretary Paddy Crumlin:

‘At the time of writing this ship the SS Endeavour River is inside the Great Barrier Reef, heading north to Singapore where its Australian crew will disembark for the final time after almost 30 years.

“Up until recently the MUA members on board were worried about their future in as much as the blue water fleet crewed by Australians on our coast was disappearing at an alarming rate. Now, thanks to the hard work done, and continuing to be done by you and our fellow officers both federal and state there appears to be more than just a light at the end of the tunnel.

“On returning to Australia MUA members have the opportunity to walk up the gangway of new tonnage owned by Rio Tinto and operating on the same Gladstone/Weipa run that the Endeavour River had been working for the past three decades.

”The 80 per cent of Rio Tinto ships in Australia to be crewed by Australians bargained by you and Rio Tinto (re Government regulation and tonnage  tax) indicates more good news in the future.”