Shipping Australia took part in a round table with Western Australian officials about the State government-induced difficulties of carrying out a crew change in the state.
Shipping Australia – along with Maritime Industry Australia Limited and the maritime unions – emphasised the plight of seafarers who are experiencing increasing levels of mental and physical distress from being kept at sea for so long. Shipping Australia has heard of cases of seafarers being kept at sea for 17 months.
It is near-unprecedented to see the all the seafarer unions and shipping interests singing with one voice but we are united in the message that seafarer crew changes must be made easier in Western Australia. It is morally indefensible to isolate seafarers and it is a legal obligation of Australia (that includes Western Australia) as a signatory of the Maritime Labour Convention to allow crew leave and facilitate crew changes.
It is unacceptable to just say that crew changes should happen “somewhere else”. As a nation dependent on maritime trade we need to do our share as well.
Shipping Australia informed Western Australian officials that they are swapping a tiny risk of COVID-19 transmission for the risk of potential seafarer fatigue-related maritime safety related incidents, such as ships running aground on the Western Australian coast, along with potential risks of shortages of imported foods, goods and medical supplies if ships are unable to sail.
Then there are also the risks to Western Australia mining exports and the wider Western Australia economy in the event that ships end-up blocking Western Australian ports because of the seafarer crew change crisis.
Seafarers have legal workplace rights to leave ships if they are kept onboard for too long (over 11 months). Meanwhile, the maritime regulator is also obliged by Australian law to detain ships if seafarers are kept on board for more than 14 months.
Ships are already starting to be detained by the Australian maritime regulator because it is contrary to international law to have seafarers on ships for too long.
So the risk of ships being detained and blocking ports is no longer a mere theoretical risk, it is happening now.
Meanwhile, Shipping Australia was also contacted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (Pilbara) on this very topic. Our Deputy CEO Captain Melwyn Noronha briefed journalists.
You can read Melwyn Noronha’s comments to the ABC here.