The Guardian November 22, 2000


Three ships of shame, five dead

Three ships of shame, five people burnt to death and priceless damage 
done to the Great Barrier Reef  this is how the International Transport 
Workers' Federation (ITF), and its Australian affiliate the Maritime Union 
of Australia, sum up three maritime disasters on the Australian coastline 
in as many days.

At the same time as the Malaysian flagged Bunga Teratai Satu was 
being blasted off the Great Barrier Reef, surviving Filipino crew on board 
the Greek owned Maltese flag of convenience vessel XL were being 
held under arrest, by order of the vessel's owner, after a fire had killed 
two of their workmates.

Three more seafarers perished in an explosion on the Singapore flagged, 
Norwegian managed container ship Kota Wirawan.

"We've got two seafarers incinerated off the west coast, another three 
burnt to death off the east coast, and a third ship that's had to be 
blasted off our world heritage reef", said Maritime Union National 
Secretary, John Coombs.

He said these disasters were not coincidences or accidents, but came down 
to the policies of the Howard Government.

"World shipping is dominated by brutal, environmentally irresponsible flags 
of convenience", Mr Coombs pointed out. "We've had three parliamentary 
inquiries expose how these cut-throat operators have absolute disregard for 
human life, much less that of our marine environment."

Despite this, the Government continues on with its deregulation of 
shipping, even permitting foreign flag ships, the ships of shame, into 
Australia's coastal trade.

The Maritime Union is calling for tighter restrictions and greater 
vigilance. "How many more people have to die, how much more damage has to 
be done to our marine parks, how much more pollution to our coastal waters, 
before the Government is prepared to act?"

Trevor Charles of the Australian section of the ITF said the seamen on the 
burnt out freighter XL must be suffering incredible trauma. "We want 
to help, the church and community want to help, but the ship owner won't 
even let us on board."

The ITF has even offered to cover the cost of a helicopter charter to bring 
the crew ashore for counselling. There have been a stream of people going 
to the ship, including representatives of the owner, lawyers, surveyors and 
police, who have brought the dead ashore.

But representatives of the Filipino community, the church and the ITF have 
been refused permission to go out to the ship.

Mr Charles said the records show that the XL is a repeat safety 
offender. "It had countless fire fighting defects. It was a disaster 
waiting to happen. No doubt the same applies to the Kota Wirawan, 
now sitting off our national marine park just 200 nautical miles from 
Norfolk Island."

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