WATERFRONT workers and stevedore DP World Australia are at loggerheads, after wharfies at West Swanson refused to unload box ship Xin Da Lian, citing coronavirus fears.

But the company has hit back saying the vessel had been cleared by the Australian Border Force and the wharfies’ actions were delaying “critical imports” such as medical supplies.

Xin Da Lian (IMO 9234331) is flagged in China and was launched in 2003 according to the MarineTraffic website.

The vessel previously left Shanghai on 17 March before sailing to Kaohsiung in Taiwan and then on to Melbourne.

DPWA confirmed 22 wharfies were stood down on Tuesday night due to their actions and another 40 were stood down on Wednesday morning.

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The MUA said wharfies understood their important role during the current crisis, but allowing the container vessel “to breach the coronavirus quarantine period” was simply too great a risk.

Citing the Ruby Princess cruise ship incident, MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said the largest cluster coronavirus cases in Australia was the result of inadequate measures.

“Wharfies don’t want to see a repeat of that blunder on the waterfront, but we still see ships allowed to dock inside of quarantine periods in breach of Australian government Department of Health guidelines,” he said.

“An outbreak of COVID-19 on the waterfront would have a devastating impact on Australia’s supply chain.”

In response, DPWA has provided Daily Cargo News with an Australian Border Force document regarding restrictions to vessels entering Australia within the 14-day isolation period, seemingly contradicting the union’s position.

In that ABF document it is stated:

  • All crew must remain on-board while the vessel is berthed in Australia.
  • Crew are able to disembark to conduct essential vessel functions and crew must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while performing these functions. 

DPWA chief operating officer Andrew Adam said the directions were very clear.

“The vessel left Shanghai in China on 17 March and arrived in Melbourne on 31 March. It has been out at sea for 14 days,” Mr Adam said.

“The union is not allowed to unilaterally declare a vessel unsafe: they are not allowed to create their own set of rules.

“At all times, our priority is to keep trade flowing, and maintain the health and safety of our employees and our operations. DP World conducts rigorous safety processes on every vessel that visit our terminals.”

Mr Adam said DPWA’s virus response focused on keeping ports and terminals operational, and this was achieved by prioritising safety.

“Using COVID-19 related-safety concerns does a disservice to the Australian public, who rely on trade and goods from our ports during these challenging times and have genuine fear over their wellbeing and safety as a result of this global pandemic,” Mr Adam said.

“DP World is working resolutely to protect our people and the communities in which we operate, and to keep trade flowing including food, medicines and other vital supplies.”

Utterly spurious”

Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn condemned the wharfies’ actions for what he said was “utterly spurious health and safety claims”.

“The union’s claims that the vessel is breaching any sort of regulation and presents an abnormal risk is an outright campaign of lies,” Mr Nairn said.

“At a time of national crisis when all other Australians are feeling the pressure, the Victorian branch of the MUA is engaging in a blatant attempt to whip up panic and fear for their own selfish ends.

“This behaviour is unconscionable. A desperate action by a desperate union at the expense of the Australian public to try to make themselves appear relevant – what a failure.”

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