A SENATE Inquiry is now all-but-assured following the start of an inquest into three deaths aboard the coal-carrying Sage Sagittarius - the so-called "death ship" - after broad support from the Opposition, Greens and crossbenchers.

If it goes ahead, the inquiry will complicate plans by Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss who is trying to push ahead with major coastal shipping reforms.

The reforms would allow ships with foreign owners and crews to operate in our domestic industry.

The support for the inquiry comes as the Sagittarius sits anchored off the New South Wales coast.

As of Sunday, the Sagittarius is expected to dock in Newcastle at 7.30pm on Wednesday, before departing for Japan on Thursday afternoon.

Sage Sagittarius
Sage Sagittarius Courtesy NBN News

The inquest into the ship and its crew followed a major investigation by Australian Regional Media, the publishers of this site.

Under Mr Truss's changes, ships would not be expected to match Australian wage rules or employment conditions unless they operated here for more than six months a year.

International Transport Workers' Federation coordinator Dean Summers said ship owners would switch out the ships every six months to ensure they never pay the extra costs of business.

The goal of the reforms is to encourage a resurgence in domestic shipping, as just 15 Australian-flagged ships now service domestic ports, down from 30 in 2007.

The inquiry rests on securing support from one more crossbencher so the plan has unassailable numbers.

Already, senators Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon and Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party have each given in-principle support for an inquiry into international shipping.

Senator Lambie said the inquiry terms would need to be "broad and wide-ranging".

"I specifically want to be able to ask questions about the amount of tax that international shipping companies pay or don't pay.

Senator Xenophon said he was "broadly supportive" of the inquiry but would make his decision based on the inquiry's terms.

Mr Muir gave his support, also pending the release of detail.

Greens Senator Janet Rice gave her support, citing the deaths aboard the Sagittarius.

"These tragic deaths have shone a light on disturbing issues within the flag-of-convenience shipping industry," she said.

"For the sake of the lives and welfare of international seafarers, we need a Senate inquiry into flag of convenience shipping."

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

Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese backed an inquiry last week, as he met with Mr Summers in Canberra.

In response to questions, Mr Truss's office pointed to comments made at the announcement of the reforms.

"Once the legislation is drafted, the Bill will be open to full public scrutiny through the Parliamentary committee processes."

 



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