Thursday, March 19, 2020, 9.40pm
THE Queensland government has responded to criticism about its ship lock-out policy, saying it was consistent with the rules it had applied to Chinese ships since January 31 and South Korean ships since March 5.
The decision by Maritime Safety Queensland to exclude all visiting cargo ships until they were 14 days sail out of their previous ports has been slammed by Shipping Australia as being inconsistent with Australian government advice.
Queensland Transport and Roads Minister Mark Bailey said on Thursday that the rules in Queensland had been "adopted across the nation".
But this appeared at odds with advice from the NSW Port Authority, which confirmed yesterday that vessels were free to tie up in ports including NSW if they were inside the 14 days as long as their crews did not leave the vessel. (See below)
Mr Bailey said Queensland had a "tough but necessary policy" to protect against COVID-19
"Essentially, the decision reduces the potential for seafarers who may be carrying the virus to come into contact with local maritime workers, in particular marine pilots, who Australia can't afford to fall ill to the virus," Mr Bailey said.
"Losing highly skilled marine pilots to infection, particularly at regional ports could have a catastrophic effect on trade at those ports over many months.
"There are exemptions for critical supply, as well as for countries including New Zealand and PNG plus the South Pacific islands, where the risk is sufficiently managed."
THE shipping industry's peak body says 14-day COVID-19 bans on cargo vessels entering Australian ports will result in "severe" disruptions to food supplies and other everyday household goods.
Shipping Australia says also that the Queensland government has introduced harsher restrictions on cargo vessels than the federal government has instructed and which other states, including NSW, are adhering to.
The concerns over food shortages come as the full impact of coronavirus restrictions and exclusions start to take noticeable effect on day-to-living, beyond the cancellations of major sporting competitions and other large audience events.
On the port restrictions, Shipping Australia chief executive Rod Nairn said that Prime Minister Scott Morrison's directions did not prohibit ships from entering ports inside the 14-day mark - only that crews must not leave their vessels inside that time.
"The Queensland policy is reckless and indefensible," Mr Nairn said.
"Cargo ship crews are probably the lowest risk sector in the world with not one cargo ship crew member yet being confirmed as having COVID-19".
Shipping Australia says the Queensland rules could lead to ships being redirected by cargo owners to other ports to unload, with the goods then trucked back to their intended destinations.
It is calling on federal, state and territory governments to work together to remove the 14-day self-isolation bans, and to allow ships to be unloaded to ensure that shop shelves are not left empty when the problem could be as much a lack of supply as it was panic buying.
The rapidly changing nature of the coronavirus outbreak and response has led to confusion in many sectors as to what the latest advice to their particular industry may mean.
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Some port users said that NSW and Queensland ports were operating on the same guidelines but Shipping Australia insisted this was not the case.
It pointed to Maritime Safety Queensland advice that said ships arriving from China or South Korea "must not enter a Queensland pilotage area until 14 days have elapsed since the ship's departure", or if anyone on board had "travelled or transited through a country outside of Australia after 2359 on 15 March".
A spokesperson for the NSW Port Authority said Australian Border Force advice did not prohibit vessels arriving in Australian ports so long as crew remain aboard while berthed if the vessels have not been at sea for more than 14 days.
Maritime Union of Australia Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams said the main difference at the moment was in port workers not boarding vessels and crews not disembarking.
Shipping Australia's deputy chief executive Melwyn Noronho said the importance of keeping imports flowing into Australia vastly outweighed the "miniscule risk" of cargo ship crews carrying COVID-19.
"We would not expect an air cargo-carrying aeroplane to fly around for 14-days before it could land in Australia," Mr Moronha said.
"Why should it be any different for ships? At the end of the day, freight must flow so that Australians can access the basic, everyday, consumer goods that their families need."
He said ship hires typically cost $25,000 at present rates, so enforced delays added substantially to business costs.
Shipping Australia said the globalisation of trade meant that much of the food and household goods used by Australians came from overseas by container ships that landed at the nation's three biggest ports - Botany, Melbourne and Brisbane.
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