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Issue # 1403      18 March 2009

Explosives overboard a threat to our coastline

The vessel which created an environmental disaster with a huge oil spil and the loss overboard of containers containing the volatile explosive ammonium nitrate off the Queensland coast last week is a Hong Kong registered flag of convenience ship, the Pacific Adventurer.

The 17-year-old, general cargo ship was carrying Australian cargo from Newcastle to Brisbane on the coastal domestic run, once reserved for Australian shipping, when it hit heavy seas.

The Pacific Adventurer is owned by Swire &Sons Ltd London, managed by Swire Navigation HK and Registered Blue Wind Shipping HK.

“The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation have been calling for the federal government to rebuild the decimated Australian coastal shipping industry after 11 long years of Howard government deregulation,” said Mick Doleman, MUA assistant national secretary.

“This domestic coastal trade was once reserved for highly regulated Australian ships to ensure it meet the most stringent international safety and security regulations.”

The union has been saying that volatile cargos, particularly ammonium nitrate, should be regulated on our coast and pristine waterways.

“It shouldn’t be left to the lowest possible international shipper using the cheapest international crews,” said Mr Doleman.

The deregulated Hong Kong ship at the centre of what will possibly be the worst environmental catastrophe in Queensland’s history has been trading in and around Australian ports for the past 30 days with a history of carrying domestic cargos.

The MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said, “Our union has been at forefront of a battle to protect Australian jobs, Australian security and the Australian environment through support for a national industry.”

The union said that coastal shipping forms part of Australia’s critical national infrastructure. Mr Crumlin said that 11 years of shipping deregulation by the former Howard government was squarely to blame for the situation.

As Queensland deals with the current oil slick the MUA has warned of the dangers of 600 tonnes of ammonium nitrate leaching into the pristine waters off Queensland as well as the dangers to navigation of 31 containers floating in shipping lanes just beneath the surface.

“The Rudd government has committed rebuilding the Australian merchant fleet which means safer, more secure and reliable coastal trade,” Siad Mick Doleman. “This heightens the urgency of acting sooner rather than later.”

The current disaster is the second incident involving ammonium nitrate in recent weeks. The Panamanian registered Migah Tiga, a flag of convenience vessel owned operated and crewed out of Indonesia is still alongside Newcastle after being condemned by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority two weeks ago. The vessel had started to load but after inspection showed it was not seaworthy and had to discharge.

The MUA has described this as yet another rust bucket undermining the Australian industry and its marine environment.

The MUA said that the answer is highly trained and qualified Australian seafarers using regulated Australian flagged ships.



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