Author Topic: A bit of history - flag of convenience livestock carriers  (Read 1868 times)

Export News Tasmania

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Re: A bit of history - flag of convenience livestock carriers
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2012, 07:35:04 PM »
And there is STILL not a single livestock carrier registered in Australia, they are all registered under flags of convenience

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A bit of history - flag of convenience livestock carriers
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2012, 07:34:12 PM »
The Convenience Of A Flag

Sydney Morning Herald
Many of our livestock exports travel in ships that evade health and safety regulation, and keep animals and crew in wretched conditions. ANTHONY HOY reports on winners and losers in a $500m industry.

IN SEPTEMBER, a ship called the Uniceb, a 30-year-old rust bucket, lurched out of Fremantle with a cargo of 67,000 Australian sheep. Sitting in its hold was a giant pile of sheep fodder - a heat-generating compost heap, a spontaneous combustion time bomb.

That was not the only problem on board. The International Transport Federation (ITF) had been alerted to tensions between the crew and the Uniceb's engineer, a representative of the owners, when, during its stop in Fremantle, a crew member approached the Maritime Union of Australia with a broken collarbone, "visibly shaken but too terrified to tell what had happened".

The ITF is a federation of the world's transport unions, representing more than 5 million workers. The Maritime Union of Australia is an affiliate. The ITF found that the Panama-registered Uniceb's crew were not being paid (even though the basic rate for Filipino seamen, for instance, was only about $250 a month, with unpaid overtime and negligible holidays), that "the poor buggers" had no air-conditioning, and that they were sleeping on deck with the livestock. Toilets on board did not flush properly, and drinking water was poor.

An ITF spokesman confirmed this week that the Uniceb left Fremantle before the conditions had been properly investigated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Several weeks later, the 67,000 sheep on the Uniceb's decks met a fiery end between Fremantle and their destination in Jordan, left encaged on the blazing decks when the ship went down in the Indian Ocean. The Uniceb's engineer was "lost overboard".

A week after the crew abandoned ship, a salvage tug arrived at the point of its last sighting. Within days, the search was abandoned following the sighting of debris "consistent with the sinking of the vessel".

The Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (AMLC) - the body charged by the Australian Government, the cattle industry, livestock exporters and shippers with presenting a united public front on such contentious issues as the conditions for livestock and crew on such ships - acknowledged this week that there had been no Australian inquiry into the sinking of the Uniceb. Under the International Convention of Safety of Life at Sea, this is the responsibility of the port where the ship was registered, in this case Panama. An AMLC spokesman, Lloyd Beeby, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was in touch with Panamanian authorities.

According to a Government spokesman, Senator David Brownhill, the required inquiry is "now being conducted by the Panama representative in Bombay, and is expected to take some months". Brownhill need only have referred to the findings of a House of Representatives 1992 inquiry into ship safety to find in the parliamentary record a note of Australia's derision about "flag states who accept ship registration fees and pay lip service to their international maritime obligations", and the "conspiracy of silence that operates to cover up the abuses and deceptions associated with substandard shipping".

Flag of convenience vessels are registered in tax havens such as Liberia and Panama, and Third World countries, including the Philippines, to avoid safety regulations and international shipping standards.

"This means there is no investigation," said ITF's Australian representative, Trevor Charles. "Can you imagine Panama holding an investigation? Unscrupulous shippers register their vessels there because there is no follow-up. It's a cover-up. End of story."

Australian authorities have previously shown no interest in muggings and murders in Australian waters - even the death of an Indonesian radio officer, Santosi Budi, bashed last year aboard the Italian-owned Glory Cape at Dampier and abandoned in shark-infested waters.

Nor is this the first fire on a sheep transport off Australia. Two such in 1990 - one of which cost the South Australian fire service $2 million to extinguish - had prompted the Federal Government to initiate research into these floating fire hazards. However, the livestock export trade is worth $500 million a year, and the funds for research into this awkward subject quickly dried up.

AUSTRALIA'S complacency about the plight of the Third World labour used as accessories to the country's cattle industry was jolted last weekend when an Australian livestock officer employed by the Elders pastoral house was rescued with his team of 20 Filipino seamen after six hours in a life raft in heavy seas off Guam.

The AMLC was quick to say "nature" caused the sinking of the MV Guernsey Express and the loss of 1,600 Australian cattle bound for Japanese feedlots. The vessel had taken water "following a battering from 300 km/h winds and 15-metre seas whipped up by Typhoon Dale", Lloyd Beeby said.

The AMLC describes these livestock export vessels as "state-of-the-art livestock carriers". According to the ITF, MV Guernsey Express was a 30-year-old "rust bucket", nominally owned by "Philippines Pacific Ocean Lines Inc", but managed by the Dutch company Vroon BV, and chartered for its disastrous final voyage by Elders.

Marcial Landero, Filipino captain of the Guernsey Express's sister ship, Zebu Express, said the old tub was 10 years past its use-by date, and badly rusted "from sea-level to the bottom". Landero confirmed he would have found the task of sailing Guernsey Express through typhoon-prone waters daunting.

EIGHTY-FIVE sheep transports and 466 cattle livestock export vessels - most of them flying flags of convenience - struggle out of Australian ports each year with 700,000 head of cattle and 5.5 million sheep worth $500 million to the Australian economy.

The AMLC glosses over animal welfare and union concerns about aspects of the trade, saying livestock exports have resuscitated the northern Australian cattle industry, almost bankrupted by the collapse of the US market for manufacturing (hamburger) beef and Asian market for chilled beef.

Most of the export live cattle are feeder steers destined for fattening in feedlots in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Japan, Egypt and Jordan. The trade satisfies South-East Asian demand for freshly killed meat, sold in "wet markets", due to the low level of refrigeration technology.

Someone is making a killing out of this country's livestock export trade.

On a basic pay of $250 a month, it isn't the Third World seamen.

At $1.10/kg live weight at the station yards, it isn't the Australian cattleman, who, according to the NT Cattlemen's Association, needs at least $1 a kilogram just to break even.

As is often the case in Australian agriculture, a valuable resource is being sacrificed.

Vroon BV and other shippers are doing very nicely, on conservative estimates pocketing between $150,000 and $190,000 per trip for a cool $85 million to $125 million a year.

Lloyd's of London and associated insurers aren't doing too badly - $7 million in premiums on cattle alone, at the going rate of about $10 a head.

And our Asian neighbours, whose own beef industries are limited, are using live Australian animals to build up their own cattle herds, feedlots and meat processing infrastructure at the expense of the Australian producer.


THE Democrats and the Greens have supported a Senate motion calling on the Government to clean up the livestock export trade.

Apart from the animal cruelty issue (the Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Societies says 100,000 sheep die on the ships each year), "thousands of meat workers have lost their jobs", according to a Democrat senator, John Woodley.

Animal Liberation, union and Senate calls for an investigation centre on issues including alleviation of cruelty, Third World crew conditions and safety and rescue procedures in the event of disaster.

The flag of convenience vessels have already been dubbed "ships of shame" by a House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure inquiry in 1992.

It was, the committee said, "a report about a minority of ships, bad ships, ships that endanger the lives of those who serve on them. Ships that are a source of major risks to the marine environment and marine facilities of the nations they visit. Ships on which seafarers are abused and exploited by officers and management alike."

The report spoke of the need for international pressure to be "applied to flag states that do not carry out their international responsibilities".

"Australia should adopt tougher measures in its own area of jurisdiction," the report said. "The end of this inquiry should see the beginning of a wider appreciation of the dangers and abuses of substandard shipping and an end to its practices."

It clearly hasn't.

Saturday November 16, 1996 Anthony Hoy