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Labor myths debunked ships' safety is in the government's hands

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PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Tel 06 2 7 7 4213, Fax 06 2 7 7 2124



Evidence given by a senior officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has debunked the "flag of convenience" mythology regarding safety that has been put forward by Senator Collins and others in the Labor Party lately.

Despite attempts by them to make foreign flags, especially flags of convenience, the scapegoat for accidents at sea, the AMSA officer has confirmed to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology Inquiry into the Shipbuilding Industry that flag of convenience vessels are not as bad from a safety point of view as their reputation suggested.

H e w ent on to say that there were fewer faults found by AMSA on Panamanian vessels, for example, than the average.

The most recent attack from Labor on "the deplorable condition of many of these vessels that operate as flag of convenience ships" came from the M ember for Throsby, Colin Hollis, during debate on a motion by the Member for Shortland, Peter Morris, supported

by the Opposition, calling for an increased inspection rate of foreign vessels entering Australian ports.

Mr Morris and the AMSA officer both made the point that Australia inspects only 25% of vessels entering Australian ports. Since, according to AMSA, about 60% of those inspected are found to have serious faults, it is reasonable to conclude that a large number of faulty vessels are leaving Australian ports uninspected and undetected.

The solution is not, as Senator Collins seems to suggest, banning foreign vessels from Australian waters. In the case of international trading vessels, Senator Collins should know that international treaty obligations prevent that, in any event.

The answer lies, as put forward by Peter Morris, in fully exercising our rights and obligations, as provided under the Navigation Act, for the inspection and detention, where unseaworthy, of vessels.

If, as Colin Hollis claimed, a ship such as the Blooming Orchid has been condemned seven times in Australian ports since 1986, but is still coming and going from Australian ports, the problem is not only the ship, but also the Australian Authority's inadequate exercise of the powers it has under the Navigation Act.



Section 189 of the Navigation Act makes all ships - foreign and Australian - liable to inspection and survey. The Act gives the Australian Authority wide powers of inspection and access to vessels. It also defines strictly what is "unseaworthy" and "unsound", and includes in the later "conditions on board..clearly hazardous to safety or health."

The Act provides for the detention of a vessel that is either unseaworthy or unsound.

Senator Collins and other Labor Party Members have sought to make a safety scapegoat of foreign shipping, in order to create a spurious argument for their protectionist cabotage policy.

Cabotage relates, by definition, only to coastal shipping (it is from the French caboter; to sail by the capes). Since it is in operation and still did not prevent - and could not prevent - the disasters cited by Senator Collins and others, which involved vessels engaged in the international trade, cabotage obviously makes no difference to safety.

Labor is attempting to create an argument that, since the international vessels which have gone down have been foreign vessels (which is not surprising, since foreign vessels carry 96% of our trade), Australian vessels must be safer, and therefore foreign vessels must be kept out of Australia's coastal trade.

It would serve Australia and the rest of the world better if Australia simply exercised its rights and obligations to inspect and, where appropriate to detain, all shipping entering Australian ports, coastal and international.

Pushing unsafe vessels off our coast to become a hazard elsewhere is no solution. Detaining and, if necessary, condemning them is a solution and is internationally responsible as well.

After the sinking of the Kirki, the Opposition called for more stringent inspections and noted that many vessels have sunk after marine surveys, suggesting that marine surveys must be of the highest standard.

Australia's Navigation Act provides the Government with the ability to enforce standards, and it can and must insist on the highest standards.

It is time that the Hawke Government faced up to this issue on its merits, and stopped using marine safety as a scapegoat for its protectionist cabotage policy.

Ends................S22/91 Contact: John Wallis

19-11-91 A/H 06 295 6796