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."