FRUSTRATIONS are escalating as ongoing industrial action in Fremantle Port has forced the diversion of three ro-ro vessels delivering critical agricultural and mining resources to Western Australia.

The Wallenius Wilhelmsen ships Morning Prosperity, Tamesis and Tamerlane were diverted to Melbourne and Adelaide after stevedores refused to unload cargo, leaving agricultural businesses in the lurch.

Australian Resources and Energy Group (AMMA) said it is highly concerned that major shipping companies are being forced to bypass Fremantle. The industry organisation is calling on the Western Australian government to intervene.

“Employers in Australia’s resources and farming sectors are doing their best to keep their businesses and the economy afloat during this pandemic, and the last thing they need is an act of industrial bastardry delaying the delivery of critical plant and equipment,” AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said.

“It’s highly irresponsible for the CFMMEU [of which the MUA is a part] to block the unloading of large international cargo carriers at Fremantle Port at a time when interstate movement of freight is difficult, costly and a proven risk of introducing COVID-19 into virus-free regions.”

Mr Knott called the situation “a serious state issue” and highlighted the threat to Western Australia’s economy.

“By stopping all work at Fremantle Port, the CFMMEU is not only damaging WA’s revenue-generating industries, but also creating new potential COVID-19 entry points at a time the government is taking all measures to keep the virus out,” he said.

“Premier Mark McGowan must write to the President of the Fair Work Commission seeking, as per Section 423 of the Fair Work Act, to put a stop to the industrial action on the basis that it is causing significant economic harm.

“It is time for the Western Australian government to stand up for its resources, energy and farming employers, as well as the broader interests of its citizens, and seek to put an end to this damaging strike.”

In the meantime, those expecting the delivery of the cargo will be forced to wait for their goods to be transported across the country, although the logistics of transferring the cargo back by land adds another layer of complexity.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia president Tony Seabrook told DCN the ships were carrying 42 combine harvesters, 38 of which would have been unloaded in Western Australia and should already be operating on farms.

Because the harvest season has already begun, the arrival of new machines would have initiated the trade of new and old equipment, with contracts already signed and dealerships prepared to handle the exchanges.

“It’s a flow on effect. It’s impacted more people than just the ones who were expecting new machines,” Mr Seabrook said.

“It’s not just agricultural equipment either – there’s a lot of mining equipment on board that’s also going to Melbourne.”

Mr Seabrook said the logistics of transporting the machinery from Melbourne and Adelaide will be time consuming and extremely costly.

“It’s not as simple as putting a container on a train and sending it over … each one of these things is going to require a specialised truck to go and get them,” he said.

“Most of the loads will be over-width, which means they will not be able to travel at night and may even require a pilot vehicle.

“It’s not going to be simple, and it’s going to cost an extraordinarily large amount of money.”

Mr Seabrook said the MUA has, in the past, “proven to be vengeful and vindictive” and highlighted the irrationality of sending critical equipment away.

“The reason Western Australia is recovering as well as it is, is because of mining, and there was mining gear on those ships. And these plods on the wharf are sending the ships away with mining gear on board.”

He said the strenuous process of transporting the cargo back into the state could become an opportunity for a public display.

“How grand would it be if we could bring together all the equipment that’s able to carry this stuff, and transport it in a convoy?”

The Western Australian Government did not respond to DCN’s request for comment.