TWO maritime unions are urging the Strategic Fleet Taskforce to address training as an urgent priority, arguing that 60 deck and 60 engineering students should begin training as soon as possible to fill roles in the Strategic Fleet.

The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers and the Australian Maritime Officers Union, in a joint submission to the taskforce, also called for coastal tankers to be the first vessels included in the strategic fleet.

The unions addressed their submission to the initial phase of the taskforce, which aims to produce a broad strategic assessment of the Australian maritime industry and its current and future shipping needs.

The urgent training task

They said the training issue is particularly urgent because of the time it takes for seafarers to obtain the certifications for advanced maritime roles.

The unions recommend the Department of Infrastructure and Transport seek urgent funding to establish a sponsored maritime officer training program.

They said it takes up to three years to obtain the Watchkeeping Certificate of Competency required for junior officers and it takes up to six years to obtain a Class 1 Certificate of Competency to be a senior officer.

The unions said there is a very tight labour market in the Australian maritime industry presently and if there is to be a 12-vessel strategic fleet, there will be a need for about 200 officers.

“This is particularly so for maritime officers,” they said.

“In order to ensure the availability of additional officers for the Strategic Fleet, AIMPE and AMOU believe that a concerted training effort needs to start in the first semester of 2023. Even with such an early start, the first junior officers would not become available until 2024 or 2025.”

Disruption and tankers

The unions recommend at least four liquid tankers be included in the Strategic Fleet, and these ships should be the first to join the fleet.

The reasoning behind this recommendation lies in the potential for significant disruption in international shipping.

The unions point to international conflict; bushfires; floods; weather; earthquakes and tsunamis; and restrictions stemming from the pandemic as examples of this disruption.

They pointed out that much of Australia’s domestic freight transport relies on regular fuel supplies, and therefore securing fuel supply chains is an important consideration for the Strategic Fleet Taskforce.

“A relatively small number of ships could have a large influence in this segment,” the unions said in their statement.

The unions also recommend the fleet include at least one gas tanker, at least three dry bulk carriers and at least three containerships.

Also, they said consideration should be given to partnering with state and territory governments to include coastal ro-ro vessels in the fleet. These ships could keep supply lines open in the case of disrupted land transport links.