Global protests in support of sacked Australian seafarers

MV Mariola. Credit: Shipspotting

Australian seafarers sacked at sea on board the last two BHP chartered iron ore bulk carriers on the Australian coast in January will be the centre of a day of international protests on Wednesday 8 May.

Two Australian crews were stood down by email while working the BHP MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance in international waters. Both bulk carriers shipped iron ore out of the Pilbara around the coast to Bluescope Steel in Port Kembla, then on to Asia, carrying coal.

The MV Lowlands Brilliance was at anchor southeast off Luzon, the Philippines, in February when the crew got word it was their last voyage. They were replaced by Indian seafarers before being flown back to Australia.

On their return, at Sydney International Airport, the chief integrated rating and union delegate, Paul Meuleman, addressed local media, “I’ve been at sea for 36 years,” he said, “just recently we copped an email at sea saying you’re finished. We’re going down the gangway to be replaced by a foreign crew. It’s a disgrace. These poor [crewmen] who joined the ship (have) come on with one pair of overalls and that’s it. (The company) ordered all the fridges for cold water to be removed from the cabins. They had their TVs removed from their cabins.”

At outer anchorage off Hong Kong, Nick Nassaris, chief integrated rating from the Mariloula described the sackings as “a real kick in the guts for us, our comrades, and our families.”

“We should not have to compete with slave labour,” he said, “a company prepared to pay their crew USD2 an hour can be just as unscrupulous about safety and the environment.”

In March, Jim Given, president of the Seafarers’ International Union Canada and chair of the International Transport Workers’ Federation Cabotage Task Force visited Australia to pledge international support.

Australian unions are seeking to emulate new Canadian cabotage laws which restrict coastal and inland river trade to Canadian flagged and crewed vessels. If none are available, foreign vessels carrying the trade must pay their crew full Canadian wage rates – not just minimum rates.

Unions stress that the global protests planned for 8 May outside Australian embassies and company headquarters are not just aiming to get Australian seafarers back up the gangway. The message is that maritime unions are prepared to act internationally to defend the industry and the rights of domestic seafarers to work in domestic trades, whatever nation they come from.

BHP was unable to respond in time, when contacted by SAS. But the company has previously stated it is no longer in the business of running ships, including engaging vessel crewing and management services and therefore was not responsible.

The company contract to service BlueScope was due to expire in June.

Protests are already scheduled for Canada, Norway, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, with Italy, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and the Netherlands unions also expected to demonstrate on the day, according to the ITF.