QUEENSLAND transport minister Mark Bailey has defended moves to exclude all foreign ships from pilotage areas at state ports until 14 days have elapsed since leaving their last international port.

The policy incurred fierce criticism from Shipping Australia, backed by other industry groups, but Mr Bailey said it was consistent with the same rules it had applied to Chinese ships since 31 January and South Korean ships since 5 March.

“These are decisions made by maritime and health experts to protect our communities during this international pandemic,” Mr Bailey said.

“Given the health threat our nation is facing, this is a tough but necessary policy and meets the community’s expectations to tighten border control to contain COVID-19 to minimise the threat to our sea based trade from this virus.”

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Mr Bailey said the policy reduced the potential for international seafarers who may be sick or carrying the virus to come into contact with local maritime workers while they may be contagious.

“Losing highly skilled marine pilots to infection, particularly at regional ports could have a catastrophic effect on trade at those ports over many months,” he said.

“The Australian economy can’t afford that.”

Shipping Australia chief executive Rod Nairn earlier described the policy from Maritime Safety Queensland as “reckless and indefensible”.

“Cargo ship crews are probably the lowest risk sector in the world with not one cargo ship crew member yet being confirmed as having COVID-19,” Mr Nairn said.

He indicated some shipping lines may well be forced to omit port calls or, in the worst case scenario, stop calling at Australia altogether. “That will lead to massive re-location of cargo away from where it is supposed to be and it will have to be trucked across the continent. Trucking costs could escalate.”

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