The Age: Striking Tandara Spirit Crew Sail for Singapore to Avoid Court Action

By Heath Aston: The AgeĀ 

The petrol tanker stand-off in Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay is over.

Crew of the Tandara Spirit have ended their sit-in after nearly three weeks and will sail for Singapore by midday Thursday to avoid what they say is "destructive legal action" targeting them personally.

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For nearly three weeks crew have defied orders from Viva Energy, the company that took over Shell's Geelong petrol refinery, to sail the Tandara Spirit back to Asia where the ship will be returned to its owners and they will be made redundant.

The Tandara Spirit is one of just five Australian-operated tankers left and the crew claimed that Viva Energy is replacing them with foreign-flagged vessels crewed by sailors paid $20 a day.

The Maritime Union of Australia, representing the crew, was due in the Federal Court on Friday. Strikers can be targeted personally, with Construction Foresty Mining and Energy Union fined more than $1 million last year for taking part in an "illegal" eight day strike at Woodside's LNG project in Burrup, Western Australia, in 2008.

In an open-letter obtained by Fairfax Media, the crew of 18 said they were not willing to expose their families to the possibility of financial hardship.
"Our 20-day action was forced upon us. It has put us under extreme stress. The threat of destructive legal action against us has been of deep concern. We don't want our wives and families to be worried about losing the family home," they said.

"We are ordinary working people. We're not trying to be political activists. We just want to do our jobs in Australian waters. So although we are ending our sit in for now, our conviction that we are doing the right thing - both for ourselves and for the nation - is unbent.

"We do not want to sail to Singapore to be sacked by Viva Energy and replaced with foreign-based crew being paid as little as $2 an hour. We believe that there can and should be a role for hardworking Australians in shipping fuel to this country."

"We do not believe our industrial system should be undermined by companies who would prefer to pay foreign crew slave wages."

The crew raised national fuel security and environmental threats as wider issues associated with the stand they have taken.

"We believe that a serious environmental disaster in Australian waters is inevitableĀ  - whether it is by storing large volumes of petrol in large tankers in Port Phillip Bay or by moving tankers around the Great Barrier Reef when run by those unfamiliar with Australian waters and conditions," they said.

Viva Energy has been contacted for comment. Last week, it said that rising sales in Victoria had increased truck-based deliveries and the company no longer requires a dedicated coastal vessel.

Teekay Australia, the operator of the leased vessel and employer of the crew, said it was pleased that the crew of the Tandara Spirit is "working as directed".

"The Tandara Spirit will lift anchor at 12 noon today and sail to Singapore, where it will be returned to its owner. Teekay advises that crew members disembarked at Singapore will be flown back to Australia," the company said in a statement.

The original story.