Licence to spill
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the grounding last week of a Malaysian container ship, the Bunga Teratai Satu, on the Great Barrier Reef. The union said its concerns over deregulation of Australia's shipping industry have been borne out by the accident. The vessel was laden with toxic chemicals and 1,200 tonnes of fuel. The Bunga, which held a permit to carry domestic cargo, has been subjected to five port inspections, the last in Sydney's Port Botany in August this year, when it was detained. "This outrageous threat to our World Heritage Barrier Reef is a direct result of the Coalition Government policy of allowing foreign flag ships to take over our domestic trade", said MUA Deputy National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin. "The Bunga Teratai Satu is just one of the new recruits to the Federal Government's shonky fleet", he said. "They've got these poorly regulated vessels with badly trained crew undercutting Australian ships in what are effectively tax avoidance schemes getting direct sponsorship from Transport Minister John Anderson and his Canberra mates." Cabotage laws restrict Australia's domestic trade to Australian flag shipping except where no suitable Australian ship is available. Shippers and freight forwarders, lured by rates afforded by foreign ships employing third world crew — mostly poorly trained and low paid — find loopholes in the Act to avoid using the national flag vessels. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) does spot checks on ships, but inspectors are not always able to ensure all ships are seaworthy from the inspections, which take place only a few hours before the vessels sail. In recent years the AMSA has seen a winding back of its funding under current Federal Government policies. Also, a number of senior management people have left, disillusioned by government intervention. The Bunga was last inspected by the AMSA in Port Botany on August 8 this year. The inspector noted that ships officers were not able to demonstrate operation of radio equipment, that engine room ventilation fire dampers were defective and the means of lifeboat recovery inoperative. The scrutiny the vessel has been put under in recent years demonstrates the AMSA's serious concerns and yet, on August 3, just five days before the ship was detained, and after numerous inspections which detected defects, John Anderson awarded a licence for the ship to carry Australian domestic cargo for 12 months. The MUA is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the circumstances of the awarding of the licence. "It's almost as if the Government gave this ship the licence to pollute and endanger our waterways because of their determination to destroy Australian shipping", said Paddy Crumlin. "Our ships can't compete with these vessels because we maintain safety and training standards second to none in the world. We hold John Anderson responsible for any damage coming out of this." Mr Crumlin pointed out that only two months ago the Minister was smugly boasting about his victory in the Federal Court against MUA efforts to prohibit the use of these types of vessels in the Australian domestic shipping industry. Shipping paper Lloyds List/Daily Commercial News reports that AMSA has subjected the Bunga Teratai Satu to five inspections in the past two years, detaining the vessel once. When it ploughed into the reef off the coast of Queensland, it was six miles off course and had a permit to carry Australian cargo between Sydney, Bell Bay (Tasmania) or Burnie (Tasmania) and Fremantle (Western Australia).