THE SIGNIFICANT and invaluable contribution merchant seafarers make to Australia’s economy and society — transporting more than 98 percent of the nation’s imports and exports — is being recognised today as the world marks the International Day of the Seafarer.
Organised by the International Maritime Organization — the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety, security and sustainability of shipping — June 25 highlights the huge but often overlooked contribution seafarers make to modern society.
The COVID19 pandemic had been particularly hard for seafarers, with 200,000 currently stuck onboard ships around the world, unable to go home to their families due to border closures and a lack of government efforts to repatriate them.
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said the day also highlighted the need to urgently turn around the decline of Australia’s merchant fleet, which has steadily shrunk under the Abbott, Turnbull, and Morrison Governments, leaving the country without the self-sufficiency a smart island nation needs.
With very few ships flying the Australian red ensign, the nation’s supply chains have become increasingly precarious, with the overwhelming majority of ships servicing the nation now foreign owned, crewed and flagged.
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 the vital supplies they bring.
“Seafarers are the invisible workforce responsible for supplying the country with crucial supplies, fuel, and the overwhelming majority of everyday products, as well as exporting our resources and manufactured goods to the world,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Put simply, without seafarers, Australia’s economy and society would collapse almost overnight.
“Unfortunately, under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison Governments we have seen the continued loss of Australian-flag vessels, leaving the nation in a dangerous position that could see fuel dry up within weeks if a crisis interrupts our supply chain.
“The Liberals and Nationals have driven a race to the bottom on the Australian coast, resulting in highly-skilled Australian seafarers being replaced by flag of convenience vessels registered in notorious tax havens and crewed by exploited foreign visa workers paid as little as $2 per hour.
“The International Day of the Seafarer highlights the need for Australia to restore merchant shipping, with a strategic fleet of Australian-flagged vessels crewed by Australian workers that can ensure our sovereign self-sufficiency and the security for our nation’s fuel and supply capabilities.”