Five remaining crew members have been removed from the Australian bulk carrier MV Portland in south-eastern Australia in what maritime unions are describing as a ‘forcible raid’. The removal of the crew marks an abrupt end to a two-month standoff over the replacement of the ship and firing of its 40 Australian crew.
Up to 30 security guards boarded the ship at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning and ‘forcibly removed’ the five remaining crew members from the vessel to usher in a foreign crew tasked with sailing the ship to Singapore, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) reported.
The removal of the Australian crew members follows a 60-day dispute with New York-based mining group Alcoa, who is planning to sell the aluminum carrier and replace it with a foreign-flagged ship and foreign crew.
The MV Portland had been used by Alcoa for 27 years on the domestic Western Australia-to-Portland route, but the company plans to replace the bulk carrier with a ship sailing under a flag of convenience (FOC) and operated by cheap foreign labor, an action that many argue circumvents Australia’s cabotage laws.
Wednesday’s removal of the crew members was strongly condemned by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), who says the dawn raid came despite widespread opposition in Australia, as well as from seafarers and trade unions around the world.
ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: “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. The ITF will be investigating these matters fully, including the role of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in this affair.”
In a strongly worded statement following the raid, the MUA national secretary and ITF president Paddy Crumlin questioned Alcoa’s ‘heavy-handed approach’ to the removal of the crew, as well as the license allowing Alcoa to use foreign ships on a domestic route.
“Questions need to be asked about the role of Alcoa and the Australian Government in this,” Mr. Crumlin said.
“How did the foreign crew gain permission to enter and then sail the vessel? Where are the crew from? What security checks do they have? What visa are they on?
“Has Australia learnt nothing since the infamous waterfront dispute in 1998? When did it suddenly become ok to again send in security guards in the dead of night to forcibly remove a workforce? This sort of thing shouldn’t happen to anyone in their workplace.”
Alcoa was granted temporary license by the Australian government to replace the vessel with a foreign ship, but later the Australian Senate denied making changes to the country’s laws and open routes to foreign ships.