Suspected Leprosy Rings Alarm Bells

More evidence highlights need for urgent measures to revitalise Australian shipping

Confirmation that a Filipino seafarer has been in isolation in Wollongong hospital with a suspected case of Hansens disease (leprosy) for two weeks should set alarm bells ringing about the  danger to health and safety of largely uncontrolled flag of convenience (FOC) ships.

The crew member, left the Greek flagged Agios  
Nikolas and entered the hospital on April 3 and on at 1pm on the  
same day the ship reportedly sailed with a load of coal for the  
Japanese port of Fukuyama.
"There are obviously concerns for the health of the crew member here  
but it's the lack of timely reporting of this case and possible  
contagion to Australian and indeed Pacific and Japanese waterfront  
workers that is so alarming here", said Warren Smith Assistant National  
Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).
"If this had been an Australian ship there is no question that this  
incident would have been reported immediately to port and maritime  
authorities. It is yet more evidence for the Government to act on a  
suite of reforms it is currently considering that will revitalise  
Australian shipping", he said.
Garry Keane, the MUA's branch secretary, southern NSW, says he only  
found out through inquiries with the NSW Department of Health late  
this week that the seafarer has indeed been in hospital with  
suspected TB and leprosy since April 3.
"During this gap of nearly two weeks no one in the maritime industry  
regulatory or vessel/port management bodies or the Maritime Union  
had been notified of a vessel with crew potentially carrying a  
contagious disease, which sailed for Japan the same day the seafarer  
went to hospital. The crew of the ship and Japanese authorities had,  
unbelievably, also not been informed", said Keane.
"The reporting procedure in this case has been nothing short of  
disgraceful. Since April 3 the FOC vessel would have had time to  
call into several other Australian or Pacific ports and has probably  
already hit port in Japan with the potential to infect numerous  
waterside workers.
Those who could have been exposed include a range of people -   
Customs, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) inspectors,  
maritime pilots or anyone else from the industry that attends the  
ship along the way, with the flow on effect to family and friends.
The South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service says that  
after the preliminary tests they are waiting on confirmation of the  
suspected leprosy from clinicians.
"The MUA will send a summary of its concerns on the way this matter  
was - or at least wasn't reported - to industry bodies, requesting a  
meeting to be convened by the NSW Ports Minister. It would be  
attended by representatives of the newly- formed Ports Committee,  
Port Kembla Ports Corporation management, AMSA, AQUIS, Customs, NSW  
Health Department representatives", said Keane.
The Maritime Union has also informed the CFMEU workers that man the  
coal loader.
"These are foreign workplaces within Australian waters that we have  
little or no control over. This ship was registered in Greece and  
was taking coal to Japan but many of these Flag of Convenience  
vessels, registered in tax havens like Panama and Liberia, travel up  
and down our coasts. They often pay their crews below International  
Transport Worker's Federation minimum rates with a ship earlier this  
year paying crew $40 a day", said Smith.
"The package of reforms before Government include changes to  
maritime laws and regulation governing coastal shipping that 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.
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