PORTS Australia today is urging the WA government and shipping charterers and lines to work together to avoid circumstances where the state government is forced to punish or turn away ships that have passed through ports in nations with high COVID-19 risk.

The WA Premier Mark McGowan has said he reserves the right to deny any vessels into the state if COVID-19 ifs found onboard. He said several ships currently en route to WA from Indonesia could be turned back.

In a statement, Ports Australia said it appreciates the complexities behind managing the challenges of COVID-19, as well as the WA government’s concern, but “this needs to be balanced with the desire to protect the Australian economy”.

“The WA government’s statement of intention surely provides a window of opportunity for charterers and the shipping industry to demonstrate the measures they are taking and are prepared to take to allay the concerns of a government which fully understands the importance of the supply chain to both its state and the wider national economies,” Ports Australia wrote in the statement.

“Ports Australia is calling for greater collaboration between all levels of government across Australia as we cannot afford to have inconsistency across our borders regarding how we treat and manage the supply chain which keeps us alive.”

Ports Australia pointed out that WA is vast and the distance between major ports is similar to that of Queensland, but the contrast between the states’ management of the supply chain throughout the pandemic is “stark”. It pointed to QLD’s recent management of the MV Sanyu, which was diverted to Weipa, where nearly the entire crew tested positive for COVID-19 and half of them were flown to southeast QLD for treatment.

“The management of the MV Sanyu addresses three major concerns which should be considered in any similar situation across Australia: protection of Australian communities, continuation of the supply chain and protecting international seafarers,” Ports Australia wrote.

Ports Australia CEO Mike Gallacher said he is not aware of a single instance where a COVID-19 case onboard a vessel pulling into an Australian port has resulted in community transmission, which simply means our protocols are working.

“Yes, we need a practical approach to safeguarding our people and economy, but we also need a humanitarian approach to protecting international seafarers who make trade possible,” he said.

“Ports Australia is calling for calm and cooperation and for the Western Australian government to continue dialogue with the sector which has outperformed itself in tough times so we can avoid inconsistent policy and discord spreading across Australia.”