Union Disgust as Last Aussie-crewed Fuel Tanker Leaves the Australian Coast

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is disgusted at the decision by oil giant BP to take the last Aussie-crewed fuel tanker, the MT British Fidelity, off the Australian coast.

Ship manager ASP told workers in a letter in the past 24 hours that BP had told them the contract for the vessel would be terminated on May 9. The vessel is currently in Singapore.

The crew raised objections in sailing to Singapore fearing their jobs were in jeopardy and despite assurances the ship would return to trade on the Australian coast, their worst fears were realised. 

“ASP regrets the departure of the vessel and the possible need for redundancies to occur. These are decisions by BP and not ASP,” the letter says.

The vessel historically ran fuel from Kwinana to Adelaide and more recently Kwinana to Devonport/Hobart. Ironically, the arrival of the letter marks exactly one year since the crew got their letter of termination from BP’s British Loyalty.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said Australia moves 99 per cent of its freight by sea and has the fourth largest shipping task in the world.

“Shipping is an industry vital to Australia’s national interest and of course we should have a strong coastal shipping fleet rather than deregulation and subsequent race to the bottom,” Crumlin said.

“The Turnbull Government’s hypocrisy is breathtaking - they want to remove hardworking Australians who pay tax in this country and replace them with exploited foreign labour on as little as $2/hr who are employed on Flag of Convenience shipping, which is itself a global tax scam.

“We need to maintain the maritime skills base, as well as protect jobs, the environment and our national security.The decline of manufacturing is also significant problem when it comes to jobs and these industries should be supported.”

“Fuel security is a major threat – not just in terms of being left solely at the mercy of international markets but heaven forbid, should there be a refinery fire in Singapore or a terrorist attack on shipping lanes, Australia only has three weeks’ supply of petrol at its disposal.

Even Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan questioned the Government’s priorities, telling ABC radio on December 9 that Defence Force officials have described fuel security as the "greatest military threat" facing the nation. 

“Since 1995, the number of Australian-flagged product tankers working the coast has reduced from 11 to zero, while the number of refineries has dropped from eight to four,” Crumlin said.

“In 2000 Australia imported 60 per cent of its fuel and that number is now well over 90 per cent and rising. In 2025, it is forecast to be 100 per cent and the MUA doesn’t think that’s good enough.”

The Federal Department of Industry’s own consultants estimate that by 2016-17, the equivalent of between 53 and 64 full-time tankers will be required meet Australia’s needs.

“The Federal Government’s Energy White Paper, released last year, said the government would release its response to the International Energy Agency’s 90 day fuel storage recommendation in 2015 but that hasn’t happened. Well why not?” MUA WA Branch Secretary Chris Cain said.

“Why is it that regional Western Australia and Darwin pay some of the highest prices for petrol anywhere in the country when we are the closest to Singapore, where much of Australia’s fuel is refined?

“Market forces isn’t a good enough answer – we need to refine in Australia and ship it using Australian crews.”