Proposal for new Australian commercial fleet

Not sure how this would work.
The Australian commercial fleet was killed off in the '70s
I think there are currently only 14 Australian registered commercial vessels.

This is fanciful and unrealistic.

The Australian merchant navy has systematically been decapitated as a result of very cheap overseas crew costs, cheaper compliance and regulatory costs associated with foreign flag vessels and the introduction of continuous voyage permits. No private Australian maritime operator is going to dive into an inherently commercially compromised operation. Not going to happen.

The government’s main concern is fuel security and I get that. Our crude reserves are almost non existent and the government has been allowing the closing of the majority of our refineries with the view to converting them into imported refined product storage facilities. They have even purchased a quantity of crude which is to be stored in the USA in order to achieve our required 90 day reserve status.

Albanese speak smacks of pork-barrelling.

In 1970 I was on a Norwegian flag ship that carried cargo from NSW/South Qld. to North Qld. and Arnhem land, NT. on a dispensation from Cabotage rules.
The condition was that it was; “part cargo on an international voyage”
Hence 10% of the cargo was for Port Moresby.

One time we were loading in Brisbane together with a National Line ship, also bound for the same area.
We left when loading were completed on Friday, but the NL ship did not because, “the TV in the crew’s Dayroom didn’t work”. (They sailed Monday PM)

PS> There were no TV coverage north of Townsville at the time.


This just sounds like an empty promise to win votes in some communities, as soon as the election is over it won’t be mentioned again until the next election cycle.

There does seem some sense in governments having arrangements in place to ensure they have cargo ships available in the event of an emergency. Many years ago vessels had clearer national identity so could be called upon by governments in emergency, but now the national identity of vessels is so opaque when they are operated through a chain of shell corporations in tax-havens and flying flags of convenience.

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I don’t know if it was a sea story or not but a Captain I sailed with for many years relayed his experience working cargo in an Australia. This was back in the breakbulk days. They were discharging Tampax and the longshoremen refused to work the hold unless they got “embarrassment” pay.

He had probably heard about when the “wharfies” in Darwin demanded “embarrassment money” to discharge toilet bowls in open crate.
When the Mate asked them; “what’s the problem, haven’t you seen toilets before” they walk off the ship.

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Any Chief Officer worth his salt always had a brand new toaster and electric jug in his Fort Knox back in the day. When the Union delegate appeared with an aggrieved expression to report “ we can’t sail the toaster is busted the new one was bestowed on the delegate with due ceremony.


He doesn’t seem to want to elaborate on this idea.

Like : How does it work and where do the ships and crews come from ?

AMSA publishes their register but the bulk of the larger units in it are either unmanned barges or FPSOs and most of the remaining vessels are government owned or chartered. Hope this plan takes off, but I’m certainly not holding my breath, it would require a lot of government money which then would be mostly spend on keeping another part of the government happy.

Heard many terrible stories from old hands about the work ethics of the the marine crews, and it certainly makes for a good whinge at the ship’s bar, but my own experience as an impartial observer was pretty good (sample size n=1 so take it for what its worth), maybe they just had a good bosun/CIR? The wharfies are a different kettle of fish but that’s more for scuttlebutt I think.

It’s a real shame coastal shipping doesn’t work for political/financial/compliance reasons. Geographically Oz has every reason to move stuff around by ship: Poorly developed and/or overloaded roads and railways (3 different gauges!) especially when outside the South East corner but even between in Brisbane and Sydney it gets pretty narrow on the M1 with B-doubles driving through small towns 24/7.
And even outside the big smoke almost everyone lives close to the coast, so it would make sense to get a couple of mid-sized roros to move trailers with not-so-urgent stuff around north Qld and between Darwin/Perth and the north coast of WA (a geared container feeder would work too but that’d mean more port infrastructure and personnel).

The main reason there is no coastal shipping in Australia is probably because cost of employing seafarers there makes it uneconomical.

Some Australian companies are probably keeping a close eye on how the Yara Birkeland will perform in Norway, if it is a success then you could see autonomous vessels shipping things up and down the east coast of Australia, as having electric unmanned cargo vessels might make it more economical than road transport.

The distances between ports in Oz may be prohibiting electric powered ships just yet.

Australia is aiming to become a major exporter of hydrogen, so Hydrogen Fuel cells may be a better bet?

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Maybe the reason Aussie seafarers cost more is because it costs more to live in Oz than a 3rd world village.

Rationalizing the race to the bottom serves no one except the owners of the ships who complain about having to pay their fellow countrymen enough to buy food and pay the taxes that in one way or the other subsidize the shipping industry that makes the owner rich.

As one who worked on FOC ships for a period I was the only one paying tax. Before my application for an Australian tax number was processed my salary was taxed at 47.5% as a nonresident. Once I had a tax number it reduced to a mere 35%. Ned Kelly is alive and well and living in the Australian tax office.

But you were probably paid a fair bit more than the others too??

I most certainly was as you well know. A Filipino officer showed me a two story new home he had just had built for $40,000 US. That amount wouldn’t pay the compliance fees and building consent before a sod was turned here. Back when I was employed there a Ukrainian Chief officer was paid $4500 US per month + 6 days paid leave . The average wage of a male in the Ukraine was $400 per month and a Female school teacher was $95 per month. The average wage in NZ for a male was $40,000 US per annum. Was I getting 10 times the average wage of other New Zealanders? Hell no.

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Australian seafarer’ wages are pretty high compared to international wages and I guess also compared to the Australian general standard of living so that’s a factor; but for coastal shipping you’d be competing with trucks/road trains and (sometimes) trains rather than against foreign competition being paid $500 a month and running under Mongolian flag.

Would be interesting to see how the economics (in terms of labour cost per cargo unit/per km) would stack up between ships and trucks. You need one truck-driver per two trailers (on a type-A road train), less for larger road trains and more for a B-double. Compare that to a small ro-ro ship carrying 80-120 trailers with a crew of 12. Are seafarers really that much better paid than truck drivers in Oz?


And the ships will be Australian built ?

This fanciful political posturing is almost as grand as the proposed bullet train service between Sydney and Melbourne. NGTH!

I think every box ship this season of 40 years old has been bought up anyway.

I don’t think there is as an acute shortage of tankers and bulkers, but don’t they all have to run on air or special green power now.

Maybe a fleet of nuclear powered cargo submarines ?

Hey, why not? While we’re spending tax money, might as well setup a new shipyard or two. As long as they are in marginal seats it shouldn’t be a problem to get financing. Maybe a good idea to keep the guys in Adelaide (?) busy while they’re waiting to get started on the submarines ~ whatever flavour they turn out to be in 2040 or so.