National and fuel security, the environment and working conditions on flag
of convenience vessels
The committee received evidence that raised a number of other concerns
that this chapter will discuss in turn. Most seriously, some witnesses and submitters
argued that the increased use of FOC shipping in Australian waters could create
risks for Australia's national and fuel security, as well as to the health of
Additionally, evidence was also received about poor employment conditions
aboard FOC ships, compounded by deficiencies in on-shore services for foreign
workers working on FOC vessels in Australian waters. This matter is significant
not only from a concern for the welfare of foreign workers, but also because of
the potential for corruption and coercion, as well as how it affects safety
aboard FOCs. These factors could have repercussions for the integrity of Australia's
national security system, as well as its environmental health.
This chapter also briefly considers the case study of the MV Sage
Sagittarius, which highlights some of the concerns the committee has with
the way FOC vessels are overseen by the Commonwealth while they are active in
Lastly, this chapter also considers what mechanisms the Commonwealth has
in place to oversee FOCs in Australian waters, having regard to national
security, environmental and safety standards.
The committee received evidence that argued the current arrangements for
overseeing FOC shipping could create significant risks for our national
security. Most significantly, the Department of Immigration and Border Control
submitted that increased use of FOC vessels creates vulnerabilities in several
ways, including masking the ownership of vessels operating in Australian waters:
Reduced transparency or secrecy surrounding complex financial
and ownership arrangements are factors that can make FOC ships more attractive
for use in illegal activity, including by organised crime or terrorist groups.
This means that FOC ships may be used in a range of illegal
activities, including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal
activity in protected areas, people smuggling, and facilitating prohibited
imports or exports...
The International Transport Workers' Federation - Australia (ITF
Australia) commended the Department of Immigration and Border Security's
submission, and emphasised the potential security risks of FOC ships where the
ownership could not be easily determined:
But, most importantly and most urgently, [our submission]
goes to the impact that it has on national security and the vulnerabilities
that the flag-of-convenience system provides for crime syndicates and for
terrorist organisations. This is not us being a little bit excited about it...
[rather] it goes to the border protection submission, where they state very
clearly that the vulnerabilities created inside the flag-of-convenience system
are of concern to our national security.... [W]hat we are doing with the demise
of the Australian shipping is opening up our borders to seafarers, to owners
and to possible criminal elements—described by the department of border
security as having free entree not only into our ports but also through our
ports and into our society.
On the lack of oversight of FOC crews, several witnesses told the
committee that Australian mariners were subject to world's 'best practice'
background and criminal record checks, whereas many overseas workers on FOC
vessels were not subject to criminal or background checks at all.
The MUA argued this was particularly concerning as there were increasing
numbers of FOC vessels carrying dangerous materials, such as ammonium nitrate,
between Australian ports:
The people that are replacing us do not have [sufficient]
scrutiny. Many of them come from areas of precarious governance, such as the
Philippines, Ukraine, Russia and many others, and it is just not possible to
apply the same stringent, onerous criminal and security background checks to
those seafarers, who are effectively working fulltime...
The ITF Australia shared this concern, pointing to potential risks in
the increasing number of overseas workers employed the local oil and gas
While every part of Australia's transport logistic chain has
been strengthened and regulated in the wake of a heightened counter-terrorism
environment, the opposite is true for coastal shipping. All Australian national
maritime workers accept the most stringent and onerous criminal and security
background checks, while the international workers that shipowners use to
replace domestic crews need only apply online for a low grade visa. This in
itself should sound alarm bells in our security and crime agencies,
particularly in the multi-billion dollar domestic oil and gas industry, but has
developed into a political lever at the expense of security.
The ITF Australia drew out some of these themes at the hearing,
suggesting that Australian workers were well positioned to take over sensitive
roles in domestic freight shipping:
One of the most important things, though... is: if we are going
to have coastal cargoes—if we have alumina from west to
east or ammonium nitrate all around to the mining companies — let's do
those on Australian ships. That is not a huge amount of shipping. We have
professional people trained up and ready to go, and we have something else the
rest of the world does not have, and that is an appetite among young people to
go into this industry.
Moreover, some witnesses and submitters highlighted the potential security
risks posed by seafarers aboard FOC vessels being able to enter Australia
without sufficient background checks or security risk assessments.
For instance, Mr Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary, Maritime Union of
Australia,, suggested that:
They [can] walk out the gate with an international seafarer's
identification card or a passport that tells you the minimum facts. They walk
out the gate and are in the community. Some of them do not come back—that is
the reality, of course. They integrate themselves into the local economy... It
is more difficult in the United States for seafarers to leave their vessels -
and that is an issue of seafarers' rights, too; do not get me wrong. But, in
Australia, when you walk through that gate there is no reason you have to come
back unless you have been herded or rounded up by the Federal Police. So they
walk out the gate; that is the reality.
The committee received evidence that around 91 per cent of our national
bulk fuel requirement is imported, which means Australia's fuel supply relies
upon foreign ships, including those on FOC registers.
Some witnesses considered that FOC shipping does not pose a significant
risk to Australia's fuel security.
For instance, ICS submitted:
Foreign ships have a positive impact on fuel security since
Australia is dependent on foreign ships for the transportation of imports of
crude oil and petrochemical products, as well as the export of Australian LNG
to overseas markets.
However, some witnesses raised concerns in this matter. For instance,
the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) noted that
'Australia has failed to maintain in tanks ashore the internationally
recommended liquid fuel reserves of 90 days' supply'.
AIMPE submitted that soon no Australian seafarers will be employed on oil tankers,
which will mean:
fuel security will then be entirely dependent on 'Flag-of-Convenience' tankers
with foreign crews under the sovereignty of another nation and so not amenable
to Australia's laws as to SECURITY assessments by ASIO and AFP, nor Australia's
other laws on TAX, Safety, OH&S, legal-rights, Immigration and so on.
leaves Australia’s economy exposed to potential disruption of imported liquid
fuels not just in time of war but also at any time by Islamic Jihadists.
ITF Australia submitted to the committee that there should be a level of
'Australian connection or content' in the transportation of dangerous cargoes,
including refined petroleum products.
This recommendation was based on the much safer record of Australian ships
carrying fuel over recent years, which they outlined:
Not only are there much higher numbers of detentions of
international tankers carrying domestic petroleum cargos than their Australian
crewed and managed equivalents, an average of 12 tankers per year carrying
international imports to Australia have been detained by AMSA.
The committee notes the concerns about Australia's fuel security
expressed in its 2015 inquiry into Australia’s Transport Energy Resilience and
Sustainability, which recommended that:
...the Australian Government undertake a comprehensive
whole-of-government risk assessment of Australia's fuel supply, availability
and vulnerability. The assessment should consider the vulnerabilities in
Australia's fuel supply to possible disruptions resulting from military
actions, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, industrial accidents and
financial and other structural dislocation. Any other external or domestic
circumstance that could interfere with Australia's fuel supply should also be
Some witnesses suggested that foreign ships do not pose a more
significant risk to the environment than locally owned and operated vessels.
For instance, Shipping Australia Limited (SAL) submitted:
From an environmental perspective, SAL accepts that the
percentage of open register ships trading to Australia is far greater than
locally registered ships, but disagrees with uninformed perceptions that such
vessels are hence a risk to our environment. As mentioned above foreign flagged
vessels are generally newer and better maintained.
However, the committee received other evidence that outlined the potential
risks that increased use of FOCs could have for Australia's natural environment
Most significantly, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection provided
evidence that some FOC jurisdictions have much lower environmental and safety
standards than Australia:
Some flag states require adherence to minimum required
standards of shipboard practice instead of best practice. These flag states may
also have poor governance and compliance regimes and fail to adhere to
international maritime conventions and standards. [These factors] can contribute
to a decreased or limited crew capability and diminish a ship's general
seaworthiness [and] contribute to a heightened risk to the environment or other
shipping, potentially leading to a compromise to biosecurity, for example
through poor ballast water management or by causing marine pollution.
Rightship Pty Ltd pointed out that the standards governing environmental
compliance are matters of international law, rather than what flag a vessel
However, it also noted that, of the vessels detained by AMSA on environmental
grounds between January 2014 and August 2015, the majority (58 per cent)
sailed under FOCs.
ITF Australia also highlighted the more lax environmental standards of
some FOC jurisdictions. It argued that the recent increase of international
ships operating in Australian waters made pollution of our environment more
likely, including by:
...the release of biocides from toxic chemicals used in
anti-fouling paints of all ships, dumping of wastes including oily wastes, and
the transfer of invasive alien species through ballast water. Increasing ship
traffic also increases the risk of maritime accidents including oil spills.
The Australian Council of Mission to Seafarers outlined the broader
effects of environmental accidents, as well as noting the potential cost to the
Commonwealth for clean-up operations:
Health, safety and environmental risks are often linked as a
single risk event in the maritime space, such as a vessel grounding. For
example a ship running aground not only has physical damage to ship and to the
reef but also pollution of the sea and coastline, the safety of ship and crew
and those who go to assist, cost of clean-up operations, cost due to loss or
delay of ship cargo on Australian industry and commerce and the emotional
impacts on coastal communities, for example.
The Maritime Union of New Zealand commented that the cost of repairing
environmental damage caused by foreign vessels, as well as the difficulties of
recouping costs from their owners, should be 'taken into account when the 'cost
savings' of FOC shipping are touted'.
Several submissions and witnesses reminded the committee of the
environmental and financial cost of the Shen Neng running aground in
Queensland on 3 April 2010, an accident caused by crew fatigue. This evidence
highlighted the irreparable environmental damage this caused the Great Barrier
Reef, as well as the clean-up costs of $192 million funded by the Commonwealth.
Working conditions and standards for overseas workers
The committee also received evidence suggesting the increase in FOC
shipping also raised some human and workplace rights issues for workers aboard
FOC vessels, including the following matters, which will be discussed in turn:
potential for exploitation and corruption, including minimal pay
rates, poor safety conditions, and the bullying and abuse of crews;
the lack of shore-based welfare; and
Exploitation of crews and bullying
The Australian Council of Mission to Seafarers told the committee that
it was a minority of 'rogue ship owners' who exploited their crews:
The majority of flag state and FOC shipping companies do not
abuse and exploit crews. They operate to high standards and treat their crews
with respect and provide good living and working conditions.
However, witnesses and submissions did emphasise that workers on FOC
vessels often face workplace bullying which is compounded by precarious and
Mr Paddy Crumlin, MUA, told the committee that the seafaring trade was
not particularly good at supporting its workers, who were often subject to poor
It is not an industry that is very good at that. It is a
short-term industry that employs people from places like the Philippines and
India. It churns those workers and, as indicated by the terrible situation on
the Sage Sagittarius, this is a workforce under tremendous duress.
Mr Crumlin cited evidence from a Newcastle-based organisation that
offers support services for workers in the maritime sector:
It has done 1,000 counselling services to seafarers in and
out of Australian ports and reports a high degree of mental stress, depression,
bullying and harassment because effectively again there is no regulation and
overview and nowhere for the seafarers to go so we are forced to give whatever
charitable support we can on the basis of charitable donations from elsewhere.
Mr Dean Summers, Coordinator, International Transport Workers'
Federation (ITF), commented that some seafarers on FOC vessels could be very
vulnerable to threats made against their families:
Seafarers are vulnerable, their families are vulnerable. The
Burmese are the best example. If Burmese seafarers complain, their families get
a knock on the door in the middle of the night under the military junta - hopefully,
that is changing. So, it is extraordinarily different. And that is a
deregulated system being imported into Australia through the shipping industry
- being welcomed, being red carpeted, to come onto our coast.
Low rates of pay and non-payment of
The ITF Australia outlined that wages aboard FOC vessels could be
incredibly low and that there was no enforceable minimum wage:
It is important to understand that while the Maritime Labour
Convention goes a long way to upholding human rights on board ships there is no
mention of minimum wages. The ITF has a "recommended Minimum" but there is no
mechanism to enforce or even to encourage bad operators to pay this rate. The
best [that some seafarers] can hope for is a basic rate of about $16 USD per
day (Able Seaman, used as a benchmark).
The committee was told that seafarers were often not paid their full wages,
even at these very low recommended rates of pay:
...last year the ITF, our worldwide inspectorate, around the
world recovered US$60 million in wages stolen off seafarers. Seafarers do not
get paid very much to start with, but they had all these seafarers employment
agreements and ITF agreements that say they will pay these seafarers. Through a
very complex and dedicated workforce of inspectors - around 130 inspectors
around the world, focusing just on policing flag-of-convenience ships - we got
US$60 million back.
Mr Summers, ITF, commented that there were other ways that foreign
workers often had their wages reduced:
Seafarers work up to 12 months at a time without any break,
but that is quite often - very often - exploited out to 15, 16, 18 months.
Seafarers get paid low. If a seafarer gets paid his full whack, his full wages,
he is a very, very lucky seafarer, because there is a chain of people ready to
take their skim off the top of that along the way - the manning agents and what
have you - and we have got documented evidence of that.
The ITF Australia noted that poor workplace protections available to
many FOC crew members meant they were often reluctant to provide evidence to
AMSA's investigations or safety inspections:
...the employment relationships on FOC and international ships
provide a strong disincentive for crew to come forward as witnesses or to
provide information to AMSA. International crew must be prepared to make
immense personal sacrifices to cooperate with AMSA and Commonwealth
prosecutions as doing so may pose a risk not only to their future employment,
but even to the safety of themselves and their family.
Minimal training, and low safety
and workplace standards
The implications of differing training and safety standards across
jurisdictions were drawn out by some evidence received by the committee. For
example, the MUA highlighted that some jurisdictions only have:
...very minimal training [for seafarers]. They do not have the
same risk mitigation. They do not have the same approach that we have in this
country, because we are a developed country...We have a more highly regulated
approach to safety, higher community standards and higher community
expectations than they have in [other jurisdictions]... Those standards in
shipping could not happen under Australian regulation but do happen on those
ships because we do not regulate them.
The effects of fatigue were raised by a number of witnesses and
submitters who commented on the damage caused in 2010 when the ship Shen
Neng ran aground off the Queensland coast.
One witness noted:
...the chief mate of the Shen Neng [which caused $194
million damage to the Great Barrier Reef] had slept for only 2.5 hours over the
previous 39 hours [before the accident] due to the demands of the vessel.
The committee also heard that Australia has much better provisions for managing
fatigue than many other jurisdictions:
On FOC and international ships workers are allowed to work up
to...90 hours per week in exceptional circumstances, which speaks for
itself. Australian fatigue standards say that anything over 50 hours per week is
problematic. Australian seafarers have a rostered system. We do work longer
hours and that is compensated by a fly-in fly-out approach so that rest can be
taken and you can meet the continuous nature of seafaring life whilst still
having sufficient rest to be able to recuperate.
Shore-based welfare and legal
assistance for overseas workers
Some concerns were raised that there was insufficient welfare and
support available to seafarers on foreign ships in Australian waters, including
legal assistance. For example, the Australian Council of Mission to Seafarers
submitted that the lack of recurrent funding for seafarer welfare organisations
Since the presentation of the 1992 report on Ships of
Shame we contend that in general very little has changed or been improved
in the provision of suitable shore based facilities for the provision of
welfare services for seafarers in Australia. These services apply mostly to
foreign national seafarers who make up the majority of ships’ crews worldwide
on flag state and FOC shipping.
Moreover, the ITF Australia suggested that precarious employment
conditions aboard FOC ships often meant seafarers were reluctant to seek help
from other organisations that could assist them:
Seafarers are typically recruited by a crewing agency for a
single voyage contract for 9 months... to one year... Seafarers are
effectively unemployed between voyages and then must seek a new contract in
order to return to work. A bad report from a captain can make finding another
contract difficult as agencies may communicate with each other. It is reported
that a blacklist is circulated in the Philippines of seafarers who engage in
union activity or call the ITF. The result is that 'seafarers of all ranks report that they
fear for their jobs'.
The ITF Australia noted that there are very few organisations currently
providing shore-based assistance, and most of these are operating with
Given this, the ITF Australia stated they were looking at ways to fund on-shore
support for FOC crews, including through Commonwealth funding or industry
But in the FOC system, the FOC ships do not pay their way
when it comes to seafarers' welfare. Their seafarers need to get ashore and
they need to have access off the ship—they need to have this...
[Additionally] I think there should be a study [into recurrent
funding from the Commonwealth for shore-based welfare]. And we are talking
through the Maritime Labour Convention with AMSA about the possibility of
levies [on businesses and industry]...
The submission made by the ITF Australia also noted that, quite apart
from it being available, overseas seafarers find it difficult to access legal
assistance in Australia for several reasons, including: inability to access
appropriate shore leave to seek assistance; language barriers, the difficulties
associated with not having a fixed address in Australia; the logistical
difficulties of attending medical assessments and court dates in Australia; and
the complexities of the Australian legal system.
Further to this, the Company of Master Mariners noted the difficulties
faced by overseas workers looking for legal assistance in Australia, particularly
due to the differing provisions between states and territories, and argued
these differing frameworks should be harmonised.
Case study: the MV Sage Sagittarius
Some of the concerns about the increasing use of FOC shipping in
Australian waters discussed in this chapter can be illustrated by events aboard
the MV Sage Sagittarius in 2012. As these matters are currently subject
to coronial inquiry, this report will limit itself to highlighting how:
seafarers aboard FOC vessels can be exposed to cultures of
exploitation, bullying and corruption, and find it difficult to access onshore
support services in Australia; and
individuals aboard FOC vessels can easily escape detection and
tracking by Australian agencies, particularly individuals who may be engaging
in illegal or dangerous activities.
The MV Sage Sagittarius operates under a FOC. Although it is
owned by a Japanese company, it operates under the flag of Panama and its crew
is predominantly drawn from the Philippines.
In 2012 the vessel was engaged in shipping coal between Australian and Japan.
Over six weeks in 2012 two crew members, the chief cook Mr Cesar Llanto and the
chief engineer Mr Hector Collado, died under suspicious circumstances.
Following this, after the ship had returned to Japan, Superintendent
Kosaku Monji was found dead aboard the ship while he was investigating the
first two deaths. The Japanese Transport Safety Bureau examined the
circumstances of Mr Monji's death, and found it was the result of an accident.
However, it should be noted the Japanese investigators were not aware of the
two earlier fatalities while they were looking into Mr Monji's death.
It has been alleged that the captain of the ship, Mr Venancio Salas Jr,
was a perpetrator of bullying, had been violent towards some crew members, and operated
a business selling handguns to crew members.
A culture of bullying and
intimidation, and difficulties in accessing onshore support
There have been allegations that a culture of bullying was rife among
crew members, with little support available to victims both aboard the vessel
Mr Dean Summers, ITF, described a culture of bullying aboard the ship,
as well as outlining how the efforts of a crew member to seek onshore support
had potentially led to the first death aboard the MV Sage Sagittarius:
The events on that vessel are now a matter of fact through a
coronial inquest. The first fatality on board that vessel was a man overboard,
and we now know from the inquest that that man was the chief cook who had told
the captain a few days before that if he did not stop harassing, bullying and
hitting the messmen he would go to Dean Summers of the ITF in his next port in
Newcastle, only days away. That evening, the chief cook went missing over the
side and was reported man overboard. His body was never recovered...
...[Following the decision for the AFP to investigate this
death] ...On [the ship's] way through the heads of Newcastle, the chief engineer
was coshed on the back of the head and fell some 12 metres in the engine room
to his death. This also is a matter of fact through the inquiry. It is still ongoing,
but those facts have already been established.
Mr Paddy Crumlin, MUA, drew out the implications of the case further.
Importantly, as well as bullying and the reluctance of crews to seek onshore
support, he also highlighted the Commonwealth's lack of oversight of individuals
aboard FOC vessels:
If you look at the Sage Sagittarius, there was all
sorts of criminality involved there. Maybe those people wanted a better deal
for their labour and that is the reason that some of these things happened to
them. People go missing at sea all the time. The Australian Federal Police
would not even have investigated the Sage Sagittarius if it were not for
the ITF consistently drawing it to their attention... We could have murder,
mayhem, bullying and sexual assault [aboard FOC vessels ] - and we do have it -
in our ports every day and we would know nothing about it because there is no
screening, filtering or overview.
The lack of oversight on FOC
vessels and crews in Australian waters
The committee received evidence about the MV Sage Sagittarius illustrating
that Commonwealth and state government agencies have insufficient oversight of
FOC vessels and crews operating in Australian waters. The committee was
particularly interested in the potential for insufficient oversight of
individuals who may be engaged in suspicious or illegal activity.
The committee received evidence showing that that the captain of the MV Sage
Sagittarius continued to be employed on FOC vessels working in Australian
waters following the events of September 2012. This is despite his admission
that he operated a business selling handguns to his crew in his evidence to the
NSW Coronial inquest.
Mr Summers, ITF, outlined this situation to the committee, commenting
that at the time of the deaths aboard the ship in late-2012, the Captain and
two of his crew were on a 'watch list' for the Department of Immigration and
As we went through the inquiry, layers and layers of all the
ills of the FOC system were exposed. The master on board that ship, who we know
was very close to the Filipino military, rocketed from deck boy to captain in a
very few years, had a little sideline of selling semiautomatic handguns.
Everybody on that ship had to buy a semiautomatic handgun because that was the
captain's side business. The captain and two of his cohorts were on a watch
list by Australian Immigration and Border Protection, at the time Immigration,
with a tick against their name. We only found out this information through the
coronial inquest and we still cannot find out what a watch list means.
Mr Benjamin Evans, Assistant Secretary, Strategy Branch, Department of
Immigration and Border Protection, provided evidence around what a 'watch list'
A watch list is a list of foreign nationals about whom we might
have a concern. I say 'might have a concern' rather than 'definitely have a
concern'. It could be that a person has come to attention for being involved in
the use in the past of a fraudulent passport. It could be that we believe they
might have a criminal record. It could be that they have previously come to the
attention of a law enforcement partner overseas... The purpose of the watch list
is to allow us to make a decision as to whether we will issue a person a visa
in the first place. It may be that, for the reasons a person is on a watch
list, we will say that we might issue a visa anyway, but we are aware of that
The committee understands that Mr Salas and the two relevant crew
members were working in Australia on maritime crew visas at the time of the
deaths aboard the MV Sage Sagittarius, and that Mr Salas was given
a subsequent visa to work on the MV Kyrpos Sea working between
Gladstone and Weipa during 2015 and early 2016.
Despite Mr Salas holding this visa, as well being listed on a Commonwealth
agency's 'watch list', it appears to the committee that, at crucial times, his
presence in Australian waters was not picked up, processed or shared
appropriately by Commonwealth and state agencies.
The committee reached this conclusion in part through the evidence of Mr Owen
Jacques, Online News Editor and Investigative Journalist, Australian Regional
Media, who told the committee that, while covering the story in early-2016, he
had determined Mr Salas was working on an FOC vessel in Australian waters using
publically available websites and personal contacts in the maritime sector.
Mr Jacques was surprised to find there was not more awareness that Mr
Salas was working in Australian waters, in spite of the fact he was a person of
interest in the NSW Coronial Inquest:
In February this year, I published a report that the former
captain of the Sage Sagittarius had returned to Australian waters, and that
happened to coincide with a coronial inquest occurring in New South Wales...
[While attending a hearing of the inquest in Sydney, during a morning break in
proceedings] I approached the counsel assisting and simply said that I had
published this information and asked: was he aware that Captain Venancio Salas
was back in Australian waters? He indicated to me that he was not aware of
that, and he said that they would look into it. That was essentially the extent
of the conversation I had with the counsel assisting, but I learned later that
the captain had been—I am not sure whether it was that afternoon or the
following day that he caught up with him—subpoenaed and then brought down to
face the inquest.
As mentioned above, these events are currently being investigated by the
NSW Coroner. The committee will remain interested in following the findings of
Oversight of FOCs by the Australian government
The committee received evidence from several Commonwealth agencies about
their oversight of FOC vessels, having regard to national security and the
safety and environmental standards of vessels.
National security matters
Dr Benjamin Evans, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, told
the committee that his department's concern was limited to illegal activities,
rather than concerns over crew welfare or conditions:
The reason we are concerned about the way in which flag
states behave is because of the way in which our powers are separated. Once a
vessel is in an Australian port we have the power to board it, to search it, to
question the crew and to look at their passports, because it is in an
Australian port. If a ship is on the high seas and we have suspicion it is
engaged in an illegal activity, such as unregulated fishing, to board that ship
to determine whether it has engaged in an unregulated activity, we need the
permission of the flag state to do that. That is under the international law of
So the arrangement is that we, the department, through
Maritime Border Command, have to make contact with the flag state and seek
permission to board the ship. If the flag state is uncooperative or
unresponsive a lot of the times it is not possible for us to board the ship at
sea to determine whether there have been any activities of concern going on. So
our concern around flag states, because of the remit of the department and our
interests, goes less to matters of safety and payment of crew. All of those
things are important, but the government has decided that other departments
deal with that.
Regarding the identity of FOC seafarers, Dr Evans told the committee
that the Commonwealth's ability to oversee their identity and conduct risk
assessments was robust:
My view is that the maritime crew visa is as robust as the
rest of our visa system. Our entire visa system does rely on information that
is provided by the applicant for the visa. However, some of the information
that that applicant provides they do not control—for example, a passport. You
do not get to choose the information that is on your passport; governments
issue passports. But, as I have said a couple of times—and I believe it is an
important point, so if you would indulge me to repeat myself—we use other
sources of information; we do not rely solely on what the applicant tells us.
There are watch lists that relate to documents as opposed to people. Around the
world, law enforcement and border agencies put the details of fraudulent
documents into a system that is internationally available or into systems that
we share with each other so that, when we get an application, we can check the
document and the details of the person against external sources.
The Department of Infrastructure
and Regional Development
Ms Sachi Wimmer, Executive Director, Office of Transport Security (OTS),
Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, described the concerns
and responsibilities of the OTS:
Because our legislation deals with the physical security, we
do not assess, for instance, each individual crew member. That is very much for
Border Force to do. They deal with issues like that on board. Our regime is
preventative security. It is about ship security zones. It is about whether
people can have an MSIC or an ASIC. It really does not deal with the issues
that they have raised there.
More specifically, Ms Wimmer told the committee:
The thing that we are concerned about is: are they actually
implementing the ship security plan that they should have? Their flag state
requires them to have it and the international ship security certificate
requires them to have a security plan, which is an international requirement. That
is as far as our interest goes. We are also, because of our legislation's
purpose, very focused on security; criminality is not part of our remit.
Ms Wimmer also outlined how the Department of Immigration and Border
Security shares relevant information with the OTS:
The way it works is that [the Department of Immigration and
Border Protection] collect information on vessels arriving in Australian ports,
or anticipated to arrive in Australian ports. Ninety-six hours before a vessel
arrives in an Australian port, information needs to be collected and it is
collected by the ABF. That includes things like the international ship security
certificate, they have to list their last 10 ports of call and they need to
outline any additional security measures that they had implemented at those
last 10 ports of call. That is collected by the Australian Border Force, and in
fact you can see their forms on their internet site. They pass some of that
information to us, as they are required to help us assess how we respond, if we
need to respond at all, which is very rarely.
The Australian Maritime Safety
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is responsible for 'Ensuring
safe vessel operations, combatting marine pollution, and rescuing people in
distress' in Australian waters.
The submission made by SAL argued that AMSA is effective in overseeing FOC
ships working in Australian workers:
The Australian Port State control system, administered and
applied by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is effective in enforcing
ship safety and crew welfare provisions of international conventions. It
provides an effective safeguard to detect deter and if necessary detain or
banish non-compliant ships from Australian waters, irrespective of flag.
Other evidence received by the committee suggested that there is no way
for the Commonwealth to ensure that FOC vessels meet the same safety standards
as Australian-owned ships. For example, AIMPE submitted that AMSA can only
exercise its powers:
...whilst the [FOC] ship is actually within the bounds of an
Australian port, and AMSA’s powers are the much more narrow/limited
'Port-State' Inspection powers [rather than more stringent powers for
inspection of Australian vessels]. Consequently whilst many people think that AMSA
inspects Australian ships and [FOC] ships to the same standard this is
incorrect: AMSA does NOT have the legal jurisdiction to examine and test a
[FOC] ship with the same powers that AMSA can examine and test an Australian
Regarding the monitoring of fatigue aboard FOC ships, AMSA conceded that
the current system was clumsy and that more work was needed by international
organisations to address it:
On the issue of fatigue with shipping, we are actually
leading a lot of work at the International Maritime Organization's
Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping with having the IMO
guidelines revised and having them put into more of a fatigue risk-management
At the moment, we have a very crude fatigue management. It is
just about hours of work or hours of rest. Fatigue is far more complex than
that, so we are pushing that work.
The MUA noted that it was difficult for AMSA to inspect cargo handling
gear, because relevant laws differed across Australian jurisdictions:
A lot of ports that these ships go to have not got their own
cargo-handling gear. So they will go into Western Australia and it will come
under the Western Australian code, and then they will go to South Australia and
it will come under the South Australian code. They go to Melbourne and around
the coast, and all of them have different [inspection regimes]... It is a danger
to not only those seafarers but also, particularly, the Australian stevedoring
workers using those ships, as I said, registered in Liberia. They have to go up
there and make sure that they are fit for purpose and safe and that they do not
kill themselves or someone else in them. Yet for each of those state regulators
there is the plethora of regulation, and no-one seems to care.
The following chapter outlines the committee's views and
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