Strong words and opinions have resulted as a consequence of the Australian Senate inquiry, which finds flag of convenience shipping poses serious risks to national security. Flag of convenience shipping refers to international trading vessels that are registered in tax havens such as Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands and are renowned for their lax labour laws, poor investment controls and lack of ownership oversight.
The Australian border force submission noted that, while most of legitimate sea trade is conducted by ships with flag of convenience registration, there are features of flag of convenience registration, regulation and practice that organised crime syndicates or terrorist groups may seek to exploit. These features are:
– a lack of transparency of the identity of shipowners and consequent impediment to holding the owner to account for a ship’s actions; and
– insufficient flag state regulatory enforcement and adherence to standards.
The Senate report states: “The committee takes the view that, by not agreeing to review the current state of the maritime sector in Australia, the government is failing to address the serious security, economic, human rights and environmental vulnerabilities in the sector.”
In view if these, the committee called on the Federal Government to grow the Australian maritime industry to face the risks. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President Paddy Crumlin also denounced that the government has allowed Australian seafarers to be replaced by flag of convenience shipping lawlessness.
“The solution is simple – stop destroying and start supporting and growing our domestic shipping industry and the Australian working men and women that work there and in doing so we will help keep our borders safe,” said Mr Crumlin.
The ITF also applauded the committee’s call for a comprehensive whole-of-government review into the potential economic, security and environmental risks presented by flag of convenience shipping.
“The committee is very disturbed by the many examples of job losses, poor working conditions, inadequate wages and deaths and disappearances at sea,” the committee stated. “To have seafarers disappearing and dying in and around Australian waters, and while in transit to Australian ports is unacceptable.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) implement an inspection program for ships with foreign seafarers to verify paid wages meet Australian legal requirements.
The Federal Government fund the FWO wages inspection program.
The Federal Government implement clear procedures on how to respond to deaths that occur on ships travelling in or to Australian waters.
The Federal Government consider legislative amendments to provide clarity on jurisdictional responsibility for investigating deaths on ships travelling in Australian waters.
The re-establishment of an advisory body made up of key maritime industry stakeholders to advise government on new Australian shipping policies and workforce development and training opportunities.
The Federal Government review the Australian maritime industry with a view to grow and support it.
The Federal Government review the potential economic, security and environmental risks presented by flag of convenience vessels and foreign crew.