World Maritime Day is today recognising the invaluable efforts of millions of seafarers, dockers, ferry and port workers to keep global supply chains operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, while highlighting the plight of hundreds of thousands seafarers who have been unable to return home to their families due to the crisis.
Organised by the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, the event shines a spotlight on the vital role of maritime workers in Australia’s security and economic success.
The Maritime Union of Australia said that with more than 98 per cent of Australia’s imports and exports carried by sea, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the urgent need to reinvigorate the nation’s domestic shipping industry.
MUA national secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation president Paddy Crumlin said this year had demonstrated the absolutely essential work of seafarers and dockers, who are ensuring vital medical supplies and essential household goods continue to arrive in Australia.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic threatened global supply chains, the importance of maritime workers was thrust into the spotlight, with their hard work responsible for keeping fuel, food, and other essential goods flowing,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Without the efforts of maritime workers, Australia’s economy would have collapsed, our health system would have run critically short of equipment, households would have been unable to access essential products, and our resources and manufactured goods would not have been exported to the world.
“This invisible workforce responsible for keeping our island nation operating now faces their own crisis, with hundreds of thousands stuck onboard ships, in some cases for up to 18 months, unable to return to their families due to border closures and a lack of government efforts to repatriate them.
“The Australian Government must do more to address this humanitarian crisis by facilitating the movement of international seafarers through the country so crew changes can once again take place.”
Mr Crumlin said World Maritime Day also highlighted the need to revitalise Australia’s shipping industry, including by creating a strategic fleet of Australian-flagged vessels crewed by Australian workers that can improve our sovereign self-sufficiency and the security for our nation’s fuel and supply capabilities.
“As an island nation, maritime trade keeps the economy ticking, but very few large trading vessels still fly the Australian red ensign, which has undermined our economic sovereignty as supply chains become increasingly reliant on foreign owned, crewed and flagged ships,” he said.
“A smart island nation needs a strong merchant navy — a lesson highlighted by this global pandemic.
“As the number of Australian-crewed vessels declines, not only are quality jobs lost, but our country is left vulnerable to global shocks that can disrupt maritime trade.
“Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack put out a statement today honouring Australian seafarers in the same week that he released a discussion paper seeking to further deregulate Australian shipping and destroy our industry.
“This discussion paper is a further step in building on the government’s negligence and abandonment of the national interest under the current policy settings which ignore the lessons of COVID and fuel security.
“Decades of neglect have seen the industry hollowed out, leaving Australia almost entirely dependent on foreign flag-of-convenience vessels, often registered in tax havens and crewed by exploited visa workers on as little as $2 per hour, to move cargo around the coast.”