Feb 17, 2015

Reef case highlights risk of maritime changes

News of the prosecution of the captain of a Chinese-flagged vessel found in the Great Barrier Reef without a pilot should cause Transport Minister Warren Truss to scrap his reckless plan to deregulate Australia’s domestic shipping sector.

The ABC has reported that bulk coal carrier the China Steel Developer  was found in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off Mackay on New Year’s Day without the required pilot, putting the reef at risk and exposing its Taiwanese captain to fines of up to $85,000.

The news comes just days after Mr Truss told Parliament he wanted to scrap laws put in place by the former Labor Government aimed at maintaining a strong Australian presence around our coast.

The laws, which require Australian ships to have the opportunity to contest for coastal shipping routes, are designed to safeguard the viability of the Australian maritime fleet.

The Australian maritime sector not only provides thousands of jobs, but the presence on our coastal waters of Australians familiar with our sea lanes provides greater protection of environmentally sensitive coastal areas like the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian mariners can also identify security threats and criminal activity in our coastal waters.

However, Mr Truss wants to scrap Labor’s laws – a move that would decimate Australian shipping and add to the risk of shipping accidents.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority figures show that since 2004, inspectors have detained 122 international-flagged oil tankers because they were overloaded or had defective equipment or serious deterioration in their hulls which was judged to be a risk to their seaworthiness.

In the same period they detained no Australian-flagged oil tankers.

Major shipping accidents in recent years in this nation that posed a threat to the environment all involved foreign-flagged vessels.

For example, in 2010 Chinese bulk coal carrier the Shen Neng 1 ran aground on the reef, damaging 400,000 square metres of coral in and around Douglas Shoal and leaving a 4km-long oil slick.

Mr Truss should see the China Steel Developer  case as a timely warning of the benefits of ensuring that the crews of the massive ships that work our coastal waters include Australians who understand the national interest.

Protection of the environment and the survival of the Australian shipping industry are too important to be put at risk by Mr Truss’s ideologically motivated plan to introduce WorkChoices on water.