Sunday 18th Nov, 2018

OPINION: Concerns over Australia’s fuel security highlights the need for a national fleet, writes Captain Harry Mansson

Photo: istockphoto
Photo: istockphoto


In my column of 9 November 2017 (“The Shipping Life with Captain Harry”) I repeated my earlier concerns over Australia’s lack of fuel resources reserves and the grave risks this creates in the case of interrupted ocean tanker supplies. Our obligations call for keeping a stockpile for 90 days, but we are covering only half of that, despite Federal assurances of increases.

Unprotected foreign shipping is very vulnerable to terrorist attacks – all it would take is a Zodiac speedboat attaching a limpet mine on the outside engine room of a slow moving tanker at night in Malacca Strait. A disruption of only two VLCCs (300,000 DWT tankers) would bring the economy and military to a standstill within a few weeks.

Furthermore, all supplies are now handled with foreign-flagged ships in the absence of any Australian, a serious strategic point, as well as national economic and social issues.

In my column I suggested that Australia obtain four second-hand VLCCs as a start, which would be able to handle about 41% of current import levels. They could have the necessary protection from the RAN. Watertight agreements with the maritime unions would be required in order to prevent illegal disruptions.

Incoming Senator Jim Molan has recently come out with what appears to be in-principle support of these policy proposals, and he would have a greater understanding of the subject than most parliamentarians.

The forward annual budget cost for Defence is about $15bn, but this doesn’t include any provisions for security of fuel supply. My four VLCC proposal might cost about $300 m. which is just about 2% of the budget (or, to see in context, about 20% of the proposed cost for the new Sydney Stadiums).

Should there be unexpected problems in reaching industrial agreement, the RAN could become the owner and operator of these ships with RAN crew providing in-house military security for the fuel supplies. If this became necessary it would be absurd given all the past passionate verbage about the need for Australian flag shipping restoration.

I wrote to the Prime Minister twice, but received no reply, The then Minister for Transport’s office replied that they intended to maintain the “current vibrant level of Australian flag shipping” but didn’t respond to my request for clarification, given that we don’t have any such shipping.

I look forward with much optimism to Senator Molan’s future contributions in this highly important field.

Captain Harry*

* Captain Harry Mansson AM is a Master Mariner, a retired ship’s Captain, with a subsequent varied background as an international consultant to the United Nations/World Bank to a shipping management entrepreneur. He has enjoyed a stellar career at sea and onshore.

Starting with the Swedish Merchant Navy, he also served as an officer in the Swedish Royal Navy sweeping active mines. In 1972 he established Orient Shipping Services Pty Ltd as the general agent for the entry of the Orient Overseas Line (now OOCL) into the Asia/ Australia trade. In 1993 he was deservedly awarded the Order of Australia for services to shipping and international trade.

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