The Australian Government must urgently implement a nationally-consistent best-practice plan for crew changes on international trading vessels following the preventable death of a seafarer during a high-risk transfer off Queensland’s Sunshine Coast this week.
The man died after reportedly falling from a ladder being used to transfer seafarers between the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier Formosabulk Cement and a small vessel.
As the incident occurred in Australian territorial waters, approximately five nautical miles off Mooloolaba, the vessel has been detained by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to allow an investigation into the death to occur.
The International Transport Workers' Federation said the lack of a nationally-consistent policy on international seafarer crew changes, along with restrictive state-based health orders, appeared to be the reason the high-risk offshore transfer was undertaken rather than occurring in port.
“Currently, Queensland is one of the only states in Australia facilitating crew changes on international vessels — which in many cases have seafarers that have been effectively trapped onboard for more than a year due to the COVID crisis,” ITF Australia coordinator Ian Bray said.
“The Formosabulk Cement was reportedly sailing to a NSW port, where a crew change could have safely occurred at the berth, but because of that state’s restrictive health orders it appears the vessel operator instead decided to replace the crew while sailing down the QLD coast.
“After spending the last year at sea, this seafarer was looking forward to finally returning home to his family, but instead they have received the tragic news that he died during the crew change.
“Our deepest sympathies are with his family, friends, and fellow crew members.
“It is essential that the Australian Government learn from this completely preventable death and take the urgent steps needed to address the crew change crisis that caused it.
“Australia is failing to live up to its legal obligations as a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention, which outlines the nation’s responsibility to the health and welfare of the seafarers that keep the nation’s supply chains moving.
“State and Federal Government’s are complicit in any fatalities that occur because crew changes are being undertaken in an unsafe manner due to their prescribed health orders.
“The Australian Government needs to urgently address this issue, working with State and Territory Governments to put in place a nationally-consistent, best-practice crew change policy that allows the safe transfer of crew members while vessels are in port.
“The current situation is seeing risky off-shore transfers take place, while some vessels are diverting to QLD ports because it is the only Australian state with a comprehensive approach to crew changes.”
Media comment: Ian Bray — 0403 325 376
Further information: Tim Vollmer — 0404 273 313
About the ITF and ITF Inspectorate
The International Transport Workers' Federation is a democratic global union federation of 670 transport workers trade unions representing over 20 million workers in 140 countries. The ITF works to improve the lives of transport workers globally, encouraging and organising international solidarity among its network of affiliates. The ITF represents the interests of transport workers' unions in bodies that take decisions affecting jobs, employment conditions or safety in the transport industry.
The ITF Inspectorate is a network of 147 Inspectors and Contacts, based in ports all over the world, whose job is to inspect ships calling in their ports to ensure the seafarers have decent pay, working conditions and living conditions on board. They conduct routine inspections and also visit ships on request of the crew. If necessary they assist with actions to protect seafarers' rights as permitted by law.