Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Flag of Convenience Dispute Comes to a Head as Guards Seize Domestic Freight Vessel

Australia Allows Actions by a US Firm Proscribed in its Own Country
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – One can only imagine what would be the reaction if the action taken today by US headquartered aluminium industry giant Alcoa had happened in an American port. The stand-off between the crew of the bulk freight carrier MV Portland and management was ended in rude fashion today when the vessel was boarded by a thirty strong squad of security guards which seized control of the ship and ejected the five crew who had been occupying her.

The case has been running for some time and there was an instant expression of outrage at the latest actions of the owners who also used the security staff to install a non-national crew which then got her underway for Singapore. Such actions would have been illegal in the US as the vessel was always employed on domestic routes which in America would have had to operate under Jones Act regulations.

There have been domestic and worldwide objections to the replacement of the MV Portland by a vessel sailing under a flag of convenience and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) general secretary Steve Cotton commented:

“They came for the Portland like thieves in the night. This raid and the flight of this respected vessel, with its 27 year history of serving Australian industry, raises grave questions, not just about the future of Australia as a maritime nation but also about the fitness of the crew who have been parachuted in to take this vessel away. The ITF will be investigating these matters fully, including the role of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in this affair.”

At the end of last year the ITF’s cabotage taskforce laid out the economic and national case for the Portland’s retention. It stated that protecting maritime cabotage is a legitimate domestic policy, not protectionism and that forty-seven countries have some form of cabotage law, because it is good for their economies. The unions believe that failing to protect cabotage undermines sovereignty, and has national security implications plus serious economic implications for maritime regions and communities. Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary and ITF President Paddy Crumlin issued a statement saying:

“Questions need to be asked about the role of Alcoa and the Australian Government in this. How did the foreign crew gain permission to enter and then sail the vessel? Where are the crew from? What security checks do they have? What visa are they on? Has Australia learnt nothing since the infamous waterfront dispute in 1998? When did it suddenly become ok to again send in security guards in the dead of night to forcibly remove a workforce? This sort of thing shouldn’t happen to anyone in their workplace.

“Australia currently has cabotage laws which state that ships trading through domestic ports are to be Australian flagged and crewed. The Australian Senate has blocked the Turnbull Government’s deregulation agenda with the Government’s own figures saying this would result in more than 1,000 direct job losses. The Turnbull Government should never have issued this temporary licence to Alcoa and they should cancel it immediately. Australians have a right to work jobs in their own country and to be treated with respect by an employer profiting off the minerals that belong to the Australian people."