Unscrupulous Foreign Shipowners Threat to Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

The Maritime Union of Australia says a $125,000 fine given last week to a Chinese shipping company trying to take a short-cut across the Great Barrier Reef highlights the need for ongoing vigilance of the shipping industry.

The captain and first officer of the 291m bulk carrier MV Bulk Ingenuity, owned by Grand China International Ship Management, were charged after the vessel set a course to sail through the environmentally sensitive Flinders Pass on its way to Abbot Point, near Bowen, in Queensland.

The Townsville Bulletin reported that the ship was detected by the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vehicle Traffic Service on July 21 and that initial attempts at contact were unsuccessful.

Australian Federal Police and personnel from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Australian Maritime Safety Authority searched the ship later that day.

Captain Huaien Xu and his First Officer Lu Zhang – both Chinese nationals – were charged under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 on Monday. They subsequently entered guilty pleas in Townsville Magistrates Court and were fined a total of $125,000.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said pressure from unscrupulous shipowners meant corners would often be cut by crews who had little choice but to follow orders.

“This could happen far more often if the Abbott Government deregulates shipping on the Australian coast as a result of the current review of the Coastal Trading Act,” Mr Crumlin said.

“The 2012 changes to the Coastal Trading Act were the biggest maritime reform since the passing of the Navigation Act 100 years ago. They have the potential to create employment, sustain business opportunities and productivity and build the national interest through an industry that is critical to the quality of Australia’s economy, environment and way of life.”

The changes brought in included a zero company tax rate to ship owners as an incentive to flag their vessels with the Australian flag and an overhaul of the system for issuing permits to foreign ships.

“In recent years, the number of Australian-flagged vessels has plummeted from 55 to 21.”

“When considering the way forward, the Government should act to protect Australian jobs, the maritime skills base and the environment. Scrapping changes made in 2012 could directly impact the jobs of up to 1,700 seafarers in the blue water sector and up to 8,000 associated jobs.

“Australia needs a viable, vibrant shipping industry which employs Australian workers. The industry employs thousands of Australians and cannot be allowed to fail.”

“Australia has demonstrated leadership in international shipping by showing that it doesn’t have to be a race to the bottom,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Over the previous decade, we had seen Flag of Convenience (FOC) ships, with their poor standards and exploited crews, take over our ports and displace Australian vessels. The 2012 changes have meant that ship owners on the Australian coast can begin to compete in the domestic freight market with foreign ships and the changes must be given adequate time to work.”

Press Release, August 4, 2014; Image: MUA