MT Alexander Spirit Sit-In: Australian Crewmembers Ordered to Sail

The crew of the Alexander Spirit on strike in Devonport. Photo: MUA
The crew of the Alexander Spirit in Devonport during the 10-day sit-in. Photo: MUA

 

The Australian crew of a Teekay-operated oil tanker have been ordered to set sail for Singapore after Australia’s Fair Work Commission ruled that the crew’s sit-in was illegal.

The 36 crew members of the MT Alexander Spirit have been refusing to sail from Devonport, Tasmania to Singapore since July 3rd after they were told that they would be replaced by a foreign crew on a new international route upon the tanker’s arrival in Singapore.

The MT Alexander Spirit was ordered to depart Devonport for Singapore as originally scheduled after a July 7th ruling by the Australia’s Fair Work Commission in favor of Teekay Shipping (Australia), which ordered the employees to stop the industrial action. A subsequent appeal by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) failed to overturn the ruling.

The Bahamas-flagged Alexander Spirit began a 10-year time-charter with the Australian oil company Caltex in 2009 and was previously used on a domestic route. But a July 3rd statement from the oil company said that the vessel was being repurposed on an international route with a new foreign crew.

MUA Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray has blamed Caltex’s decision repurpose the tanker on the Australian Government’s intention to unravel the country’s cabotage laws, and that Caltex was misleading the Australian public by insisting that there was not enough trade to sustain the Australian-crewed tanker.

In May, the Australian Government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, announced its new plan for coastal shipping, which included changes that would dismantle a comprehensive reform package delivered by the previous government in 2012. The package, known as the Coastal Trading (Revitalising Australian Shipping Act) 2012, created a level playing field for Australia’s domestic shipping and protects local Australian ships and crews from foreign Flags of Convenience (FOC).

Alexander Spirit was originally scheduled to depart Devonport Monday night, although its failure to meet minimum manning requirements pushed the departure back by 24 hours as Teekay scrambled to replace crew members who left due stress-related health issues.

According to the MUA, Australia is now down to four refineries and two Australian-crewed vessels carrying fuel on domestic routes, compared to eight refineries and 11 vessels in 1996.

“The MUA believes Australian refining and Australian shipping remain a vital part of ensuring our fuel security into the future and unless the Government does something, we are forecast to have no refineries and no Australian shipping within a few years,” the Union said.