Advocates demand inquiry into Australian shipping reforms

THE world's most powerful maritime advocates will this week push for a major Federal inquiry into what it is calling "the high cost of cheap shipping", days after a coronial inquest began examining three deaths aboard the foreign-owned MV Sage Sagittarius or "death ship".

The Sagittarius is being investigated after its chief cook Cesar Llanto vanished from the ship in late August 2012 as it headed south off the Queensland coastline.

Aboard the death ship: An Australian Regional Media investigation
Aboard the death ship: An Australian Regional Media investigation

Two weeks later, the ship's chief engineer Hector Collado was hit on the head before falling 11m to his death.

A Japanese supervisor later died after being pulled into industrial machinery on board as the ship arrived back in Japan.

The inquest follows a major investigation by Australian Regional Media - the publisher of this site.

The International Transport Workers' Federation is calling for a Commonwealth probe into the consequences of allowing foreign ships to enter the local industry with few or no Australians on board.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss wants the reforms to make Australian shipping more competitive.

When he announced the plan on May 20, he said it was often cheaper to ship sugar to Thailand than to ship it from one Australian port to another. If passed, the changes would allow foreign ships that operate between Australian ports to be crewed by foreign citizens. There would have to be two Australians in senior roles if the ships operate in our waters more than six months a year.

If it trades for fewer, any foreign worker on the ship is allowed to be paid "under their existing international on-board arrangements".

The two senior workers who died aboard the Sagittarius were each paid about $9000 for nine months' work and fed on about $8 a day.

ITF Australia co-ordinator Dean Summers said cheap shipping would cost Australia tax revenue as local ships were replaced with foreign hulks.

He said national security could also be put at risk.

"Australian seafarers must by law undergo the most in-depth, highest security background check before they can trade on the Australian coast," Mr Summers said.

"Foreign seafarers have a very quick check, an electronic check, with the immigration department.

"They almost immediately bounce back a maritime crew visa."

ABC's Four Corners will run coverage of the "death ship" on Monday at 8.30pm.



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