WE have the threat of terrorism, organised crime and at least two suspicious deaths that we know about, yet the Federal Government is yet to act on the dangers carried by foreign ships operating in our waters.

The risks posed by foreign shipping -- particularly those registered in poorer, third-world nations -- landed centre stage last week as the NSW Deputy Coroner Sharon Freund handed down her findings into how two men died aboard the Sage Sagttiarus, or "Death Ship".

Senator Glenn Sterle has been leading a Senate Inquiry into foreign shipping that grew out of the Death Ship investigation.

 

His inquiry called for the government to tighten up visas for foreign ships and to examine security risks. Each of these recommendations were rejected by the government.

Although at first the disappearance of a chief cook was blamed on him taking his own life, it is now clear that he was likely murdered.

Two weeks later, the ship's chief engineer was struck on the skull before he fell 11m to his death. This too was likely a result of foul play.

 

Foreign-flagged ships could be putting Australia's national security at risk.
Foreign-flagged ships could be putting Australia's national security at risk.

After two years of investigation confirmed the crew suffered physical and emotional abuse and the captain had admitted to selling guns on board, Ms Freund said it was clear there were still too many hurdles for authorities when investigating deaths on board.

But Ms Freund's comments risk going unheard or ignored by those who matter.

Immigration and Border Protection leaders have previously told Senator Sterle's inquiry that ships provided a safe haven for organised crime and potentially terrorists.

The threat of these groups was particularly worrying because they have access to ports and cities without the same stringent checks applied to most visitors.

In a submission to the inquiry, Border Force wrote:

The department found the secrecy makes those ships "attractive for use in illegal activity, including organised crime or terrorist groups".

It "makes it difficult to identify the individuals and organisations involved in their operations".

The holes in Australia's shipping laws were found to be so large that the Death Ship's former captain sailed through them to work the Queensland coastline between Weipa and Gladstone for months before being compelled to face court.

He was wanted for questioning in relation to two deaths at the time, yet his arrival went unnoticed by key authorities.

Senator Sterle said on Tuesday the inquest's findings should ring alarm bells.

"This government is putting at risk the lives of seafarers as well as our national security," he said.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is due to face the Senate Inquiry again later this month.



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