This week I issued a Direction to all international trading vessels entering Queensland’s ports. My Direction will mean that a 14-day isolation period must be observed since departing their last international port. This brings all vessels in line with measures I introduced for ships coming from China and South Korea some weeks ago. These measures have assisted in preventing any cases of COVID-19 entering Queensland throughout ports.

I did not take this action lightly. Early and decisive action is vital in the current environment.

My direction has understandingly come under some fire from representatives of international shipping lines and their owners. I accept there will be some disruption to their business and indeed local business that rely on their services – for that I apologise.

My overriding priority, however is the health and wellbeing of Queensland’s maritime industry workforce and their families.

Any significant outbreak of infection in the small but highly specialised maritime workforce puts in jeopardy the entire supply chain and indeed Queensland’s economy. I must protect this workforce. Any significant disruption to the ongoing ability to service international trading vessels has enormous repercussions to the entire supply chain and a wide range of industries. Our mining sector, agriculture sector, and transport sector rely on the ongoing ability for vessels to be received and serviced in Queensland ports.

I have been able to issue some exemptions for vessels from New Zealand based on stringent measures undertaken there, as well as South Pacific Islands noting the vital role Australian supply plays to sustaining these isolated nations. In issuing these exemptions a stringent risk based process and verification of mitigation measures was conducted. I will continue to work with our maritime partners to minimise the impact of my direction where possible – without compromising the health and safety of Queensland’s workforce.

Equally, I am very mindful of the lowest paid and most vulnerable workforce in our supply chain, the international seafarers. They too are deserving of our consideration. Many seafarers are unable to disembark their vessel in our foreign trading partner nations in the current environment. If Queensland were to allow these vessels in-and-out of our ports in under 14 days then that would prevent many of them setting foot off their vessel for potentially up to nine months. The Direction I issued will allow them (provided no signs of illness are displayed) to come ashore, ring their families, purchase personal supplies and relax – even if for a short period of time.

This is a challenging time for our entire community, we must not allow narrow self-interest to overshadow broader social responsibility.

Angus Mitchell

General Manager, Maritime Safety Queensland