Ship Roulette

"We have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to keep playing what amounts to a game of Russian, Panamanian or Liberian roulette with the Reef and our enviable coastline." - Paddy Crumlin, MUA

On the back of today's damning preliminary report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on the grounding of the Sheng Neng 1 on the Great Barrier Reef the Maritime Union of Australia has asked the Government to urgently address the widespread poor ship management and alarming gaps in crew skill levels aboard many foreign ships.

"The ATSB report has found that crew fatigue was the central cause of the grounding.

"It is disgraceful that the ship's first mate had only slept for a little over two-and-a-half hours in the previous day-and-a-half.

"They were in no shape to be piloting this bulk carrier through our iconic Great Barrier Reef", said Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the MUA.

"The ATSB has highlighted fatigue, unreasonable pressure on crews and rock bottom standards of crew and ship management. It's a recipe for disaster.

"Regulation around pilotage through the Reef will be tightened, the Queensland Premier is legislating for fines of up to $10 million on corporations if oil drifts from Commonwealth into State waters, and the Federal Transport Minister has left no doubt the Government will throw the book at the Chinese owners for breaking the law, but these deterrents won't do the job if you can't regulate the skill, competencies and management of crews on foreign ships", said Crumlin.

 "Many of these ships are foreign workplaces floating on Australian waters that we have little or no control over. Many are  Flag of Convenience ships registered in tax havens like Panama and Liberia, variously referred to as Ships of Shame,  and they travel up and down the coast with crew that often have little or no training.

"We have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to keep playing what amounts to a game of Russian, Panamanian or Liberian roulette with the Reef and our enviable coastline. We saw the Hong Kong Flagged Pacific Adventurer spread oil onto pristine Queensland beaches in 2009 and the Panama flagged Pasha Bulka beached in Newcastle in 2008.

"A package of reforms that would revitalise Australian shipping, which is on its knees, has been before the Government for more than a year and we know that Transport Minister Anthony Albanese understands the urgency. We are now calling for action.

"The changes to maritime laws and regulation governing coastal shipping would see that Australian ships and crews are used in the domestic trades wherever possible, with only limited permits allowing foreign ships to operate in the domestic trades in exceptional circumstances" said Crumlin.

Foreign ships now carry 99 per cent of our international trade and 30 per cent of our domestic coastal trade.

 "The shipping industry is desperate for some critical decisions on the shipping policy package to commit to the necessary fiscal and regulatory changes needed to keep Australian shipping afloat", said Crumlin.

"We also need to make our seafarers competitive and introduce tax concessions for Aussies working predominantly in international trades to improve competitiveness of Australian seafarers in the global seafarer labour market and to support Australian international shipping.

"But we also have to ensure we have the skills. We're looking for the Government to adopt an industry driven national shipping workforce planning framework to boost seafarer numbers and skills to prepare for the rapidly expanding freight task ahead," Crumlin said.

"I urge anyone passionate about preserving our coastline and regaining a stake in shipping on our coasts to visit the MUA campaign site Keep Australia Afloat -  and help put a new ship on our coast.

Media Contact: Paddy Crumlin 0418 379660

Michael Meagher: 0410 482367

Warren Smith :: 0400 368 945