International Day of Seafarer highlights importance of shipping to Australia’s economic security

Maritime Union of Australia

Seafarers are being recognised today for their invaluable efforts to keep Australia’s economy moving during the COVID pandemic, ensuring health supplies and other essential goods continued to reach our island nation throughout the crisis.

International Day of the Seafarer is organised by the International Maritime Organization — the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety, security and sustainability of shipping — to highlight the often overlooked contribution seafarers make to modern society.
As an island nation which relies on shipping to move 98 per cent of its imports and exports, few countries are as reliant on the work of seafarers as Australia.
Ten per cent of the world’s sea trade passes through Australian ports, with ships taking commodities and manufactured products to the world, delivering fuel and essential goods to Australian consumers, and moving building materials around the coast.
MUA national secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation president Paddy Crumlin paid tribute to all seafarers, saying that our nation would grind to a halt without their efforts.
“Without seafarers, Australia’s economy would collapse almost overnight,” Mr Crumlin said.
“The COVID crisis exposed just how vital Australia’s maritime supply chains are for keeping the nation’s economy moving, and how vulnerable they are to an international crisis.
“At a time when the world was being locked down and consumers were facing unprecedented shortages of essential products, it was the vital work of hundreds of thousands of seafarers around the world that kept Australia moving.
“Many of those seafarers have suffered extreme hardship during the past year, with hundreds of thousands stuck onboard vessels as borders shut, preventing them from returning home to their families for more than 18 months in many cases.”
Mr Crumlin said it was essential that the Morrison Government recognise the invaluable role of maritime supply chains to the nation and invest in strengthening Australia’s shipping industry.
“The Blue Highway is the backbone of Australia’s economy, yet since the Coalition Government was elected in 2013 more than half of the Australian ships carrying cargo between Australian ports have been lost,” he said.
“They have been replaced by a precarious system based overwhelmingly on foreign owned, crewed and flagged vessels, leaving the nation in a dangerous position that could see fuel supplies dry up within weeks if a crisis interrupts our supply chains.
“A smart island nation needs to protect its sovereign self-sufficiency, which requires the creation of a strategic fleet of Australian-flagged vessels capable of guaranteeing the ongoing transport of our nation’s fuel and essential supplies.
“The Morrison Government needs to stop rubber stamping the temporary licenses that allow foreign flag vessels crewed by workers paid as little as $2 per hour to replace Australian vessels working on our coast.
“They should also urgently examine active support for the Australian shipping industry, including through their Supply Chain Resilience Initiative.”
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