By Teresa Lloyd, CEO, Maritime Industry Australia

MIAL has not fallen into complacency, as others may have, that the long period we have just enjoyed of limited border closures would continue. We note that the federal budget assumes there will be frequent and ongoing closures over the coming year. Every border closure causes disruption to our national maritime industry.

We have long since given up on any meaningful consistency between the states/territory and remain perplexed that such arrangements were possible for freight and logistics workers, who have far more exposure to the community, but not for maritime workers.

The issues

There are, however, several issues that we request be raised to national cabinet level for resolution.

  1. Domestic Australian maritime workers should never be placed in hotel quarantine with returning international travellers. Such hotels clearly pose risks to those who are held within them and the risk profile of our professional crews from states/locations with few cases does not justify exposing them to such risk – crew hotels are used in some states and should be universally acceptable.
  2. Vessels and seafarers working in dedicated trade/work around the Australian coast should be treated as “Australian” regardless of their flag or nationality. The following would apply:
    1. All seafarers working in these trades can obtain a vaccine in Australia.
    1. Shoreside workers can come and go from these ships without limitation.
    1. Incoming international seafarers joining these ships are required to undertake full 14-day hotel quarantine.
  3. Domestic Australian maritime workers must be permitted to cross borders. Undertaking quarantine when travelling from areas of heightened risk is a substantial, but acceptable burden, however being forbidden from entering a state to go to work or return home from work is unacceptable. This is fundamental to the idea that maritime workers are key or critical workers. The government position that not declaring maritime workers as such doesn’t matter because the Australian approach delivers the same outcome is simply not true. The distress and hardship on those being quarantined as they move to and from work is real.
  4. International seafarers arrive via air to undertake crew change to be admitted above in the incoming passenger cap in each state/territory as a matter of course, not as an exception.
  5. As soon as vaccine availability allows, Australia should undertake vaccination of as many foreign seafarers visiting Australia as practically possible in order to protect our shoreside workers and to ensure the ships can service Australia as required (i.e. not be turned away by a state due to a COVID case on board). There are obvious humanitarian benefits to the individual seafarers. Given increasing levels of controls being placed on the industry to manage the “holes in the maritime border”, addressing these issues is quite urgent from industry’s perspective – and clearly from the states that are taking action to manage the risk by imposing further measures. Victoria already imposes surveillance testing on port workers and NSW and WA are both very close to imposing surveillance testing and/or other restrictive measures on border workers – something which is a huge impost to business and the workers affected.

There are other issues outside of National Cabinet that we will continue to pursue directly with the agencies involved, such as the re-emergence of delays in visa processing times which we will take up directly with Home Affairs.

In the west

Finally, MIAL raises the issue of the treatment of ships with COVID-positive cases on board by Western Australia as a particular point of concern. The effect of this behaviour is that ships that recently crew change are deemed toxic to the Australian market – and thus are effectively untouchable for charterers servicing our trades.

This has two impacts. For charterers, it pushes the price of ships up as the number of ships available decreases. And for shipowners – who understandably want their ships to be chartered – it acts as a very real disincentive to undertake a crew change, thus putting pressure on crews to stay on board longer.

These outcomes are both nationally and internationally significant in very negative ways and MIAL calls on Western Australia to moderate their response to such occurrences.