Friday, December 11, 2020

Fuel Spill Leads to Yet Another Call for Native Crews in Australian Territorial Waters

Union Concerns That Cost Cutting Is Leading to Additional Threats
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – A spillage during a refuelling operation in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, has led to the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) once again calling for vessels operating in Australian waters to have experienced local crew on hand to handle such procedures.

On Wednesday the MMA Coral, an offshore supply ship operated by MMA Offshore, suffered an incident whilst refuelling with diesel. The MUA states that the event appears to have been caused by the use of inexperienced foreign seafarers who had been flown into Australia to replace the vessel’s local crew. Australian authorities are investigating.

According to the MUA the previous crew of Australian seafarers had disembarked a few days before the vessel was sailed to Melbourne by foreign seafarers to refuel ahead of a planned voyage to Karratha in Western Australia. MUA Victoria Branch Secretary Shane Stevens said:

“This significant environmental incident was the direct result of skilled Australian seafarers being replaced by a less experienced foreign crew that was unfamiliar with this vessel. Thankfully, our members on board the refuelling barge immediately halted the transfer of fuel once the spill was spotted.

“They believe the spill occurred because the crew of the MMA Coral instructed for the fuel to be pumped at too high a pressure due to a lack of knowledge about the correct procedures for the ship.

“While the refuelling operation was meant to involve the transfer of approximately 200 tonnes of fuel onto the MMA Coral, the spill thankfully only involved a minimal quantity due to the quick thinking of the crew of the refuelling barge, who spotted the spill and immediately halted operations.”

The MUA says the incident is a graphic example of ship owners conducting cost cutting exercises which are a direct threat to the Australian environment, stating that this is just the latest incident demonstrating the safety and biosecurity risks posed by using foreign seafarers on coastal trading operations in Australian waters. The organisation’s Assistant National Secretary, Ian Bray, added that:

“This vessel was sailing between Australian ports, operating entirely in Australian waters, so should have been crewed by Australian seafarers with the skills, training, and knowledge to safely operate the vessel. Instead, in an apparent cost-cutting exercise, MMA Offshore flew a team of foreign seafarers into Victoria, in the midst of the Covid crisis, to replace the Australian crew on board the vessel.

“The fact that the very first refuelling undertaken by this replacement crew caused a diesel spill into Port Phillip Bay highlights how the Australian environment is put at risk by this approach. The Australian Government needs to stop providing temporary licenses and travel exemptions to shipping companies to allow them to utilise foreign seafarers on coastal shipping routes, and instead protect local jobs, safety, and the environment by insisting they utilise skilled Australian crews.”

Photo: The Yarra River flows into Port Phillip Bay and was known to the aboriginal people as Birrarung, the River of Mists. Image courtesy of the Government of Victoria.