The Guardian November 15, 2000


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."

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