Spanish oil spill brings a warning to Australian coastal shipping
Yet another environmental tragedy, yet another ship of shame
The oil tanker behind the ecological disaster off the Spanish coast is yet another ship of shame flying a flag of convenience. The ageing vessel that broke in two over night is the Bahamas-flagged, American-classed, Prestige, which is Greek-owned by a company that may or may not be registered in Liberia, and chartered by a business that could be Russian or Swiss. Flag of convenience (FOC) ships are flagged in tax havens like Panama, Liberia and the Bahamas to avoid scrutiny, labour and safety regulations. Often registration is only a matter of a fax, with no proper inspection of the ship. Documentation can also be fraudulent like that exposed by a British Guardian journalist who registered a non-existent vessel under the name of a known terrorist under the Cambodian flag of convenience over a fax machine earlier this year. In recent times two Australian vessels (the Yarra — now Stadacona, The River Torrens, now the Pacific) have been registered under the Bahamas flag of convenience as a cheaper, but dangerous option. A third vessel, the Wallarah, is now flying the Tongan flag of convenience on our coastal trade. "This latest disaster just goes to show that the Federal Government policy of promoting FOC shipping on our coast is just asking for trouble", said MUA National Shipping Campaign Co-coordinator Sean Chaffer. "We've had a series of near misses this year. Next time we may not be so lucky." In September the 50,000 tonne Filipino bulk oil carrier, the Aegean Falcon, ran aground on a pristine part of the reef near Wednesday Island in the Torres Strait, the oil and coal carrier Doric Chariot was grounded in July, the ANL Excellence the same month and the Bunga Teratai Satu in 2000.