The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) is being urged to abandon its plan to use foreign seafarers without adequate Antarctic experience to crew the MPV Everest, which will temporarily replace the iconic Aurora Australis this summer following construction delays to permanent replacement vessel the RSV Nuyina.
The Everest, which is due to arrive in Burnie from China this Friday (11 December) before continuing to Hobart, is a foreign-flagged vessel crewed entirely by foreign seafarers employed by Singapore-based crewing agent Kuiper.
The three maritime unions representing seafarers, officers and engineers are jointly urging the AAD to abandon its plan to utilise foreign seafarers and instead employ highly-experienced Australians, including those who previously worked on successful Antarctic missions aboard the Aurora.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray said there was still time to have an Australian crew engaged and placed on the vessel.
“The manning agent Kuiper International have informed us that they have no issue with employing Australian seafarers on the Everest, but explain that they are under instruction from the Australian Antarctic Division to employ foreign seafarers under very minimal terms and conditions,” Mr Bray said.
“If the AAD won’t do the right thing, the Federal Government must act to ensure highly-skilled Australian seafarers with extensive experience in Antarctica are employed to undertake this mission before it is too late.
“There is no shortage of Australian seafarers available, including crew members previously employed by P&O on the Aurora, or those who will work for Serco on the replacement vessel Nuyina when it arrives.
“Instead, we have a situation where foreign workers without adequate experience are being brought in to undertake this voyage while Australian seafarers from the Aurora and Nuyina are left in limbo.
“We are also concerned that an inappropropriate visa is being considered that has no labour market testing provision.”
Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) Senior Industrial Officer Jarrod Moran said there were serious safety concerns about the proposed arrangement.
“The crew of the Everest have very limited experience in Antarctica, which poses serious safety and environmental risks when they will be operating in such harsh conditions,” Mr Moran said.
“Communication could become an issue, which heightens safety risks and can impact on the ability to respond quickly and appropriately to an emergency.
“Delays will be exacerbated by the fact that the vessel superintendent will be based in Singapore, along with the crew liaison.
“If essential crew members need to be replaced at any stage, it will require a slow and costly process involving international arrivals and two-week quarantine periods.”
Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) Senior National Organiser Nathan Niven said the current arrangement also posed an unnecessary COVID risk.
“At a time when COVID is running rampant around the world, yet has been effectively contained in Australia, the use of foreign seafarers poses an unnecessary risk, particularly as we have experienced locals available,” Mr Niven said.
“Not only is there a biosecurity risk posed by the current crew, but any replacement crew members who need to be brought in due to illness or injury will further exacerbate that, posing an unnecessary risk to the Antarctic mission and the broader Australia community.
“There are Australians available, including the crew displaced from the Aurora or the delayed Nuyina, which would reduce the biosecurity risks, improve the safety of the mission, and also deliver employment at a time when our industry has been hammered by the COVID crisis.”