Australia faces a potential shipping deadlock that could jam supply chains due to quarantine regulations governing crews arriving in the country, a trade body has warned.
Last Wednesday ships around Australia sounded their horns in support of their seafarers who have been caught by the country’s attempts to keep out new coronavirus cases.
Shipping Australia said the industry, domestically and internationally, was now “at crisis point”.
“Seafarers are being forced, by government rules to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, to stay at sea for months beyond what they originally agreed. We have heard of seafarers being required to stay at sea for up to 14 months,” Shipping Australia said.
The organisation said while maritime crew changes can currently be efficiently carried out in Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia and Tasmania, regulations in New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia (WA) severely hampered changeovers.
Queensland, for example, has carried out around 1,000 crew changes since May without a single Covid-19 incidence but in NSW and WA there is a 14-day hotel quarantine requirement on replacement crew arriving by international air.
Caps being imposed on the number of travellers that can arrive in Australia by air could start to pose an additional problem, Shipping Australia warned.
“If there is no easing of the crew change rules then an increasing number of ships will arrive in NSW ports with crew exceeding the 14-month maximum,” it said.
However once a seafarer has been aboard for that length of time Australia’s port authorities will detain their ships in line with Australia’s international obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention.
“If a ship arrives with a substantial part of its crew being in breach of the 14-month limit then the ship will be unsafe owing to being under-manned. Such ships will block our berths, our anchorages and our ports,” said Shipping Australia.
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