Friday, April 16, 2021

Again Maritime Union Demands Action on Covid Testing, Vaccination and Crew Changes

Another Case at Sea Raises Questions of Medical Security
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – To date the country has seen under 1,000 deaths attributed to Covid with over 26,000 recovering from the disease. Compare this to the UK where the pandemic has claimed over 150,000 lives from almost four and a half million known to have been infected and one can see why, once again, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is upset at the latest headlines.

Critics in the UK say the country has not made best use of its island status, unlike Taiwan or indeed Australia. Once again the MUA has raised the point that it feels the Federal Government needs to take urgent steps to improve crew change arrangements, implement testing arrangements for all seafarers on international vessels, and ensure seafarers had priority access to Covid vaccines.

The union’s demand comes after the captain of the MV Aquagenie, which was chartered by Rio Tinto to carry iron ore to China, became the second crew member to test positive for Covid. His confirmed case comes days after another seafarer from the vessel was flown to Royal Perth Hospital for treatment. MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin observed:

“As an island nation, Australia is reliant on shipping to transport our exports to the world and maintain supplies of essential goods. This Covid outbreak on a ship undertaking Australian trade highlights the need for the Federal Government to take immediate steps to secure the nation’s supply chains by addressing deficiencies in quarantine and crew change arrangements.

“Among these steps should be the provision of Covid vaccines to international seafarers, along with advocacy in global forums to prioritise vaccination for all seafarers around the world. Australia must also address the crew change crisis, which has left many seafarers onboard vessels for more than a year as borders shut.

“By implementing best-practice quarantine arrangements, Australia could facilitate the safe replacement of maritime crews, ensuring the seafarers joining the vessels that carry Australia’s goods are Covid-free. The Federal Government should also introduce mandatory Covid testing for all seafarers arriving on international vessels, ensuring positive cases are identified, proper medical care is provided, and the risk of transmission to Australian workers is reduced.

“The current system, where Covid hotspots like the Philippines are left to facilitate the overwhelming majority of crew changes, poses a significant threat to Australia’s economic security. In recent decades, big miners like Rio Tinto and BHP decided to cut costs by replacing Australian vessels with flag-of-convenience ships, registered in tax havens and crewed by exploited foreign seafarers who are often paid just $2 per hour.

“A simple step to secure their supply chains would be to once again crew their vessels with highly-skilled Australian seafarers, which would ensure they remained Covid free and commodity exports could reliably continue. The short-sighted decision to replace Australian iron boats and local seafarers with exploited foreign workers has been exposed by the Covid crisis, with those small savings on wages now threatening the movement of billions of dollars worth of commodities.”

The Liberian flagged Aquagenie was reportedly heading off to China as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was himself warning against opening the country’s borders too early, saying vaccinations were not ‘a silver bullet’ against the disease.