Ships of shame condemned all round
Unions, the Indigenous community, environmental organisations and surfing groups are up in arms over the danger to Australia's coastline from oil spills and pollution caused by foreign flag ships: the "ships of shame". Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Environment Victoria, the Clean Water Coalition, the Surfrider Foundation and Earthworker have all endorsed the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) campaign for tighter cabotage laws — laws which restrict foreign flag shipping trade on Australia's coast. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has also expressed extreme concern over the Malaysian freighter Bunga Teratai Satu being grounded on Sunbury Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef and of Indigenous heritage. Union and environmental concerns over the threat these vessels pose to our coast have been highlighted by the grounding of the Bunga. The vessel is laden with toxic chemicals and 1200 tonnes of fuel. Yet Transport Minister, John Anderson, has defended his decision to award the vessel a 12-month permit to carry domestic cargo on the Australian coast (see last week's Guardian). "The Minister has confirmed the ship had been detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in the past", said National MUA Secretary, John Coombs. "Yet he stands by his decision allowing it to trade in the Australian domestic transport industry. It's a national disgrace. We demand a full inquiry." The Bunga was detained by the AMSA in Sydney on August 8 last. The inspector noted ship's officers could not operate radio equipment, engine room ventilation dampers were defective and the means of lifeboat recovery inoperative (see detention list, AMSA website: www.amsa.gov.au). The green/union campaign is centred on a billboard featuring a surfer covered in oil, currently on display in St Kilda, Melbourne. Each month the billboard will move to another Australian capital where MUA members and greens supporters will be leafleting beaches and shopping centres to alert Australians to the dangers of substandard shipping. Meanwhile, the attempt to refloat the Bunga last Monday was the third try. ATSIC is very concerned over the danger posed to the World Heritage area by this hazardous freighter carrying toxic cargo. The impact of foreign ballast water is yet to be determined. "The whole area is subjected to native title claims and is an important cultural and traditional hunting and gathering resource for our people all along the coastline", said ATSIC Cairns Regional Council Chairman, Terry O'Shane. ATSIC has already made an extensive submission to the World Heritage Committee (WHC), to consider at its meeting in Cairns at the end of this month, on the threats to the Kakadu World Heritage Area from the Jabiluka uranium mine. Mr O'Shane pointed out that now the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef on our doorstep is under threat as well from Government decisions to allow toxic and hazardous shipping through this culturally rich and environmentally sensitive sea country. "There needs to be a full inquiry into the lack of adequate regulation here", said Mr O'Shane. ATSIC wants the WHC to send its International Scientific Panel and Cultural Advisory Committee to undertake an immediate comprehensive investigation of the impact of Jabiluka uranium mining. This should equally apply to the Great Barrier Reef and other World Heritage areas in Australia suffering from poor decisions and insufficient regulations. A submission on Kakadu points to recent action by the US Government in responding to similar threats to Yellowstone and Everglade National Parks. In those cases, placement on the list of World Heritage in-danger saw a flow of remedial measures and resources, including federal funding for rehabilitation and pollution control and land trades. ATSIC has proposed that land under the Jabaru township at Jabiluka be handed back to traditional owners as recommended by a jointly-funded Kakadu Region Social Impact Study. Similar measures need to be urgently considered by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments for the Great Barrier Reef and the wet tropics. Furthermore, ATSIC has also strongly urged the WHC to commission a full and thorough review of Australia's domestic legislation and administration relevant to World Heritage sites. "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a vital interest in 10 out of 13 World Heritage properties in Australia", said Mr O'Shane. "Yet our Indigenous rights to land and heritage protection face constant reduction. "The nation of Australia was founded in 1901 based on the false legal principle of terra nullius (empty land). Australia lacked both a Bill of Rights entrenched in its Constitution and a negotiated treaty with the Indigenous peoples. Most of the problems emerging here could have been averted had their been a properly negotiated, binding treaty in place."