THE time has come,
the walrus said, to talk of many things.
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax,
Of cabbages and kings,
And why the sea is boiling hot,
And whether pigs have wings”
(Lewis Carroll “The Walrus and the Carpenter”)
Many experts write there is much symbolism in that poem, and I myself believe that it brings to mind the time spent on waffle and avoiding the issue. Did anyone say Question Time? So we have to change tack and down the sails for a while and stop wasting time on issues, where there are no recipients for them, no matter how important.
With the current Parliamentary scenario in Canberra, it is in my view unlikely any shipping issue, or indeed any important policy launchings would see the light of day until February.
In the meantime, in response to the many issues raised on this page over the last seven months, we did receive a recent fairly complete Policy Statement on behalf of the Opposition from Bill Shorten, with himself encouraging my further contacts.
His office has further advised me they have scheduled several internal meetings on shipping between now and their national conference in July 2018.
It would seem logical to postpone any forum until later, when maybe also the government may finally have responded.
I still have nothing back after six months of one-way communication, and it is pointless to push further given the unique political situation. But I am containing my passion with my frustration, possibly as a result of old age, hopefully not senility.
It would be timely to again point out, that all of my writings have been strictly my own work and opinions, not those of Daily Cargo News.
I have not been an employee of DCN, instead writing on a voluntary basis, while at the same time benefiting from working for an enlightened publication that respects the right to free speech. Discussions have been held with many strong Australian patriots, sharing my beliefs.
I was invited by the offices of Messrs Shorten and Albanese to come forward with any ‘outstandings’, and I have a few:
Security for fuel imports
Firstly, the matter of protecting our fuel imports, given the permanent risk for sabotage and the serious 50% reduction in our fuel reserves from 90 days to 45.
My concerns have been strengthened by the Defence White Paper 2016 analysis by Vice Air Marshal John Blackburn which points out Australia’s vulnerability, with reserve supplies at the time lasting only for three days for pharmacy deliveries and nine days for food, should there be a disruption.
It was promised they would be increased to meet our undertakings, but that just didn’t happen. I find this incredible.
He also states the assumption nothing bad will happen seems based on nothing having happened for the last 36 years. Peace in perpetuity. Despite the many terrorist alerts in recent years, and just wait until it happens before acting after the event, as seems to be the custom. Please read it.
Australia’s total annual fuel imports average around 34m tonnes, every tonne shipped without any Australian control of security and by foreign interests.
I propose Australia should look at participating in this trade by initially purchasing say, four Very Large Crude Carriers of about 300,000 DWT each, about five years old and with European standard accommodation for our Australian crews, with the promised union acceptances before anything is finalised.
These ships average about 15 years of unrestricted trade, so the five-year age would give us 10 years with the four ships alone.
Allowing one month for a round trip they would make 48 trips annually between them, carrying some 14 million tonnes of fuel, which is about 41% of the total. As a start.
They could each have a small numbers of RAN experts travelling with them on risky routes, as well as to be stationed at loading ports, all to protect against any terrorist attacks of the kind we have discussed.
There was another tanker pirated in Singapore Straits recently, the seventh this year.
The cost? A five-year old VLCC sells for about US$60m, so four would represent US$240m = A$333m.
A new VLCC would need 24 months to build at a Korean shipyard and cost about $US80 million. On the longevity side the new ships are winners, and the way to go may be to do both. Get cracking with five-year olds and then replace them as the newbuildings come on stream. The cost/benefit work is easy.
This is about 20% of the planned $1.6 billion rebuilding costs of two Sydney stadiums.
Other than security, this move would mean some restart of Australian flag shipping, saving the special Master Mariners’ tanker certificates due to expire and lose us this valuable asset, create jobs for about 300 people, reactivate the Maritime Colleges, save transport costs by doing it ourselves.
It also allows us to feel some pride by re-entering international shipping as the world’s largest island continent.
Yes, I know that some will say that Australia cannot do this, so we have to leave it to a multitude of other mother nations “to feed the Oz baby”? Shame.
To help progress, I am offering the complimentary brokerage research services of Brax Shipping, whose chief executive Sven-Olof Brax has been my close friend for sixty years.
We have joint experience working with the Australian Government in the case of the charters for the Beirut evacuation in 2006.
We could start searching for vessels without delay (not an easy job), and deliver free progress reports with no payment, just to produce a full global availability picture.
Port and cargo handling cost control
I wish to remind the government of the situation in the 1970s, when the Australian Shippers’ Council went to the Prices Justification Tribunal to seek action on the exorbitant cargo handling charges in Australian ports.
I was the only shipping line executive to volunteer assistance and gave sworn evidence to the tribunal.
As a result, container charges were reduced substantially with a prolonged effect in creating a new floor for future increase negotiations. As an example, 40ft containers were charged double the 20ft rate, despite the 40fts only requiring one lift and the 20 fts two or twinlift.
That habit disappeared forever. I received very warm thanks from the ASC as well as from the government at the time.
It is a vital matter for these charges to be contained, in order to contain freight rates, and a systematic monitoring body publishing the results on a monthly basis wouldn’t take much manpower or cost, but it could save millions for our exporters as well as cutting consumer costs for imports.
Story of the week
I was on board a cruise ship as a guest and the captain (half my age) possibly regarded me as a ‘know-all’ old salt.
Why that term ‘guest’ is used for passengers I will never know because you still pay through your nose. I mention no names, and the story is basically as retold to me on board.
It came to a small crunch, when the captain grounded his ship on a sandbar, which could have been extra problematic if it had been high tide, since the tidal range was about 10 meters.
Efforts to scrape off the bank by revving the propellers took a good hour to work.
All the passengers were aware of what was happening, but not an intercom word was said in explanation, even though the activity planned for that time was cancelled.
Eventually, the skipper came on air saying there had been a “technical problem” but of no consequence. I was told he unhappily told others after he hit the bank that he had “dispatched a Zodiac to do soundings, but they were foreigners and not much good, were they”.
The “foreigners” were Aussie extra crew. Soundings are not much good after you are aground. I have heard some weak excuses on the seven seas, but that one took the cake.
So, we are taking a break
After 27 columns, and not missing one week’s issue, it is time to consolidate.
Firstly, because in terms of history there may come an involuntary tendency to become repetitive. Secondly, the material should offer the chance for reflection and more selectivity, which in itself calls for a break.
There is some history in that my first attempts for publicity were in 1972 when we launched Orient Shipping and we had great support from DCN with multiple headlines each month.
Now, 45 years later, I find myself back with DCN, so we have gone a very, very long circle – like “back at home” to be corny.
So, this will be my last column for the time being, and if my editor will have me back.
It remains to thank a lot of people: the many readers who have given me much encouragement in the form of their appreciation, often people I never knew and which whom I now feel friendship.
Those people in public life who have helped me establish communication in Canberra like Jeff Singleton and Sam Trobe, and those who have kindly offered to but, like myself, failed.
Thanks to my editor David Sexton, who has been a master of tolerance and good humour. The production manager Grant Lopez, always helpful and a brilliant placer of illustrations in the column and DCN journalist Ian Ackerman, who has been very generous with his professional support all along.
My family, whose kids masterfully presented a united front of admiration, just short of giving me a writer’s cap, scarf and pipe, the eldest one probably thanked her lucky star that the memoirs didn’t become her baby to put together, as she had suggested.
But most of all my wonderful wife Julia, who has read every word, pointed at a few spellings and repeats here and there and always expressed her total support despite (don’t say or because of) me spending very many hours each week at the keyboard, endlessly re-editing, re-writing and dreaming about each forward issue.
So I am very happy to swap my attention from that keyboard for a while and give Julia all the focus that she can handle.
And to all of you: no sandbanks please – and bon voyage!
Editor’s note: The team at Daily Cargo News would like to thank Captain Harry for his tremendous contribution during the past six months. Harry has been both insightful and entertaining and has clearly struck a chord with many veterans of Australian commercial shipping. We intend to keep an eagle eye on the issues he has raised. As Harry mentions, this is not the end, but a new beginning and we look forward to working with Harry on a revamped column in 2018.
From the print edition November 9, 2017