Shipping Australia takes issue with the rather uninformed claim from the Western Australia Transport Minister that seafarer crew changes must take place overseas. There are at several solid reasons that State and Territory governments should allow crew changes to take place in this country.
First, the people who are suffering and trapped at sea are just that: they are people, they are suffering, and they are trapped.
All governments in Australia have a moral and compassionate duty to help alleviate human suffering when they have the ability to do so.
Prevent fatigue, accidents, injuries and environmental incidents
Second, crews are becoming fatigued. Fatigue is a known casual and contributory factor in serious maritime accidents. That could mean collisions at sea. It could mean ships running aground. It could mean the spillage of oil or other pollutants onto our coasts. We can prevent such COVID-19 / fatigue-related incidents from happening by helping seafarer crew changes take place here.
Australia’s vital interests
Third, it is in the interests of Australia for governments to help ships change crews. If seafarers cannot change crew they may decide – as is their legal workplace right – to refuse to work any further and leave the ship. Crew leaving ships could result in berths being blocked. Some berths in Western Australia carry a cost to the country of $1 million dollars an hour. Shipping Australia is increasingly hearing that shipping is at risk of “drying up”.
Ships blocking our ports also means our companies will not get their export earnings. We would have thought that, during the COVID-19 crisis, Australian governments would be doing all that they can to keep the commodity exports in operation. The situation is dire if container shipping is forced to stop because of government intransigence. Container ships import foodstuffs, medicines, medical equipment and medical supplies.
Bear in mind that the logistics sector is one of Australia’s larger employers. The flow of cargo into and out of Australia is a major driver of the logistics sector. If shipping were to begin to dry up it would have profound consequences for the Australian economy.
It is clearly in Australia’s interest to prevent ships blocking ports by helping seafarers to change crews here.
Don’t leave seafarers trapped in limbo
Four, demanding that crews are changed in other countries ignores the fact that other countries also have restrictions too. If every country, or most other countries, prevent or make it too hard to carry out crew changes then we end up in the situation that we are in now – hundreds of thousands of seafarers trapped at sea. Australian governments need to show leadership and help seafarers change crew in this country.
Practicality: there are huge numbers of seafarers and ships
Five, there are far too many seafarers and ships in the world for any one country, two countries, or handful of countries, to handle them all. If meaningful numbers of crew changes are to take place then all countries must help. Australia must help.
Practicality: the world is vast and time is short
Six, ships may visit many different countries. A ship may not go anywhere near any other particular country that allows crew changes. A ship simply cannot divert to another country halfway around the planet to carry out crew changes. Ships need to keep to schedules to deliver commodities, foodstuffs, medicines, medical supplies and medical equipment.
The need to keep to schedule means that diverting to far-away countries to do crew changes is just not practical. Accordingly, it is sensible to enable crew changes to take place here in Australia.
Australia should obey international treaties to which it has signed up
Finally, under international treaties – to which Australia has voluntarily signed up – this country is obligated to help seafarers. If we claim to be a society that is governed by rule of law, then we must live by the law. Which, in this case, means that Australian governments should follow their international obligations to make it easier to carry out crew changes in our country.
Australian governments must help seafarers
Shipping Australia notes and applauds both the Federal Government and Maritime Safety Queensland for acting in Australia’s best interests by facilitating crew changes in a safe manner.
We also call upon all other Australian governments to adhere to the National Protocols on crew changes as endorsed by the National Cabinet on 9 April.