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BHP and Bluescope end an era while seafarers face an uncertain future

One month before the storm in 2007 that left the bulk carrier Pasha Bulker stranded on Nobbys Beach, the International and Domestic Shipping and Ports Study was presented to the Australian Maritime Group – a committee of peak maritime organisations.

The study noted the dramatic decline in Australia’s domestic shipping industry brought about, in part, by Federal Howard Government legislative changes. It issued a warning about relying on an “inherently volatile” system that allowed international vessels on domestic shipping runs. It recommended changes to promote a domestic shipping industry.

It noted that the bulk of vessels detained in Australian ports due to serious safety issues were foreign-flag ships, and that “human and ship management deficiencies have risen slightly in the last two years”.

Then the Pasha Bulker, a flag of convenience ship, owned by a Japanese company, registered in Panama, captained by a South Korean and crewed by Filipinos, ran aground, and the “human and ship management deficiencies” that Australian unions, masters, engineers and shipping companies had issued dire warnings about for years was on very public display.

Between 1996 and 2006 the number of Australian-registered trading vessels fell from 75 to 46. By 2019 the number has dropped to 14.

News that BHP and Bluescope are dumping the two vessels that have carried iron ore from one side of Australia to another, and coal from Port Kembla to China, has been slammed as a disgrace by the Maritime Union of Australia, and tragic by Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon. The grand old man of Australian shipping oversight, Hunter Labor veteran Peter Morris, said the decision and loss of jobs for 80 seafarers was a much bigger issue than the loss of two ships and jobs.

An island nation depending on shipping for the bulk of its trade is killing off any idea that there is a maritime industry in Australia. The transportation of goods has been largely outsourced to foreign-flag vessels with foreign labour.

History shows the Maritime Union of Australia is right to express concern about the conditions experienced by workers on some of those vessels. Australian workers literally left all at sea by the decision will return home to an uncertain future.
Source: The Herald

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