The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has condemned a Wednesday raid on the MV Portland in the Australian home port for which it is named.
Up to 30 security guards were reportedly used to eject the five Australian crew members from the vessel and usher on a non-national crew, which then set sail for Singapore.
The ITF questioned the behaviour of Alcoa as apparent non-payment of wages on one of the vessels it uses has been detected just a day after the MV Portland was spirited away from its Australian port.
The ejected crew were defending the Portland’s status as an Australian-flagged and crewed ship dedicated to Australian coastal routes, and protesting against its owner, Alcoa’s decision to scrap it and outsource the work to a flag of convenience vessel.
According to ITF general secretary Steve Cotton, the dawn raid came despite widespread opposition within Australia to the vessel’s loss, as well as from seafarers and their unions around the world.
“They came for the Portland like thieves in the night. This raid and the flight of this respected vessel –with its 27 year history of serving Australian industry –raises grave questions, not just about the future of Australia as a maritime nation but also about the fitness of the crew who have been parachuted in to take this vessel away,” Cotton said.
In a strongly worded statement, MUA national secretary and ITF president Paddy Crumlin forcefully questioned the granting of a licence to Alcoa to use foreign ships for the Portland’s domestic route for the voyage, as well as the way the replacement crew were brought into the country.
Failing to protect cabotage undermines sovereignty and has national security implications. It also has serious economic implications for maritime regions and communities.
ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel stated: “The ITF is investigating apparent non-payment of crew on the Gold River, which arrived right after the MV Portland was forcibly removed and sailed off for destruction. This again raises questions about the company’s probity and that of the companies to which it’s handing shipping contracts. Alcoa have tried to justify the scrapping of the Portland as a matter of competition and reducing costs. If not paying ships’ crews is how costs are to be cut, then the company has some serious explaining to do, not just to its crews, but to the Australian people and authorities too.”
The taskforce also stressed that failing to protect cabotage will mean lost maritime skills and resources –and will remove the supply of qualified personnel from critical shore-based industries.
Business whose livelihoods depend on local industry can be ruined, while job losses reduce government income from taxes.