Interview with Adam Stephen, ABC Regional Queensland Drive

Adam Stephen
Movers 3, Panama flagged cargo ship

ADAM STEPHEN: Now, after that conversation with Michael Rowland we put a call in to State Resource Minister Scott Stewart for comment. He declined the opportunity to come on the program. However, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Keith Pitt joins us this afternoon. Thank you for your time Minister.

KEITH PITT: It's great to be with you, great to be with your listeners.

ADAM STEPHEN: And thank you for waiting patiently on the line there. Much appreciated. To rip a line from Split Enz and the Finn brother's, this isn't Six Months in a Leaky Boat, Minister, but it is around six weeks. Stuck, might I add, for extended period without the most basic of amenities including food and water. Is it time to bring those workers onto dry land?

KEITH PITT: Firstly, the situation on arrival was completely unacceptable. AMSA has zero tolerance for this type of behaviour, that's why they've acted. And of course keep in mind that this is not inside my portfolio, it is with the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack who has management and responsibility for AMSA and all this type of transport, but it's a disappointing situation. Our regulator, the Australian regulator, has acted as it should, and we expect that it will be rectified.

ADAM STEPHEN: Is it the workers' fault, though? I mean, essentially this is an issue to do with the maintenance of the vessel. And I think it's fair to say in the appraisal of the company in question, Aswan, they've been a little bit sluggish. I mean, surely the workers shouldn't cop the brunt or the punishment effectively for essentially an operator that's substandard.

KEITH PITT: Well, there were serious deficiencies identified on the ship. That's why AMSA has taken the action it has. They are engaging with Aswan Shipping, and of course the flag state which is Panama in this case, to resolve those issues. The ship itself will remain- it will remain in those conditions in terms of this detainment until it's addressed. So in terms of the Australian government, the regulator is taking the steps that we would expect. Rio Tinto stepped in and provided some of those basics and fundamentals. But this is a process that certainly needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible. But there was one crew member that resigned and requested repatriation and that's happened.

ADAM STEPHEN: Keith Pitt, can you give us any detail as to why the Movers 3 can't actually leave Australian waters?

KEITH PITT: Well, firstly the ship does have to be stocked with sufficient provisions. Fresh water, for example, which is a pretty basic one. There were some fundamental issues around the ship survey, is my understanding, that it hasn't been kept in survey as it needed to be. Now, we work in conjunction of course with a lot of other international agencies. There's over a million seafarers who are out there every single day and every single week shifting products. And in particular for Australia, we've had some great results off the back of the very hard work of not only those who are in the transport fleet but in particular Australia's resources workers. Forecast for Australia's exports is that we will break all records this financial year, some $296 billion in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, in the midst of all the challenges we've had with corona. And I just think that's a reflection on the hard work of those men and women and they've done a great job.

ADAM STEPHEN: We're speaking to Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Keith Pitt about the predicament around 20 foreign crew find themselves in, stuck aboard a broken-down ship that has been there off the coast, the Western Cape York coast for around a month or so now. Keith Pitt, you mentioned Rio Tinto have offered assistance and come to the workers' aid. If a multinational corporation can help, is it not unreasonable to think the federal government can provide some support to? And as Michael Rowland tabled, potentially bring these workers onto dry land?

KEITH PITT: Well, Rio has acted as we would expect any Australian company. They found people in need in a remote part of Australia and they provided support, and I congratulate them. And to be honest, as the Resources Minister, I don't expect anything less. That's the sort of activity we expect from companies that are operating in Australia. But the regulator has taken serious action. They have a zero tolerance approach to what has occurred on this ship. It is being addressed through the regulator within the rules that they have in terms of their enforcement activities and directions. We expect that to be resolved as quickly as possible.

ADAM STEPHEN: Minister Keith Pitt, in my conversation with Michael Rowland yesterday, and I appreciate you may not have heard this, but Michael Rowland made- essentially drew a parallel between illegal fishing boats and the predicament those aboard the Movers 3, this vessel, find themselves in. He said in the past those found on illegal fishing boats have been held in detention at Scherger near Weipa whilst matters have been resolved. Is it not fair to say this is a fairly similar predicament and similar actions could be taken?

KEITH PITT: Well, the vessel is the responsibility obviously of the company. Its condition and the requirements for it to be seaworthy and the fundamentals provided are being directed by the regulator.

ADAM STEPHEN: But what about the workers? What about the workers in Australian waters?

KEITH PITT: Well, clearly a ship requires manning. There are a number of safety provisions that need to be met. These are the processes-

ADAM STEPHEN: [Interrupts] And if I can- I'm really sorry to interrupt you twice, but if I can interrupt you. Using that illegal fishing analogy, Michael Rowland told us that contractors came in in those instances and maintained the vessel and then the workers were taken off it to Scherger Air Force base, and kept there. Why couldn't that happen.

KEITH PITT: Well, I mean, those elements are ones which would be discussed between the regulator, AMSA. And as I've said, this is not in my portfolio area. Of course the owners of the ship and those seafarers are on board. Now, of course, we are concerned for their welfare. That's why the Australian government took the action that it did. But we want to ensure that ship is made seaworthy, that it gets underway as soon as practicable. And we need to ensure that those seafarers are looked after as per the responsibilities both inside Australia and international.

ADAM STEPHEN: When do you anticipate that might happen, that this vessel may be seaworthy and able to leave Australian waters?

KEITH PITT: Well, we want that to happen as quickly as possible. I mean there is a moral requirement on the owners to ensure they meet those fundamentals, but obviously there's an economic piece as well, which should also be encouraging them to do the right thing as quickly as possible.

ADAM STEPHEN: What if they don't though?

KEITH PITT: I mean, that's an issue that AMSA will deal with. They are the experts in terms of this type of regulation and dealing with seafarers and ships and foreign flag vessels. But they have absolutely taken the right decision. Zero tolerance approach. This is just not on when you're in Australia waters. They've acted as they should.

ADAM STEPHEN: Minister for Resources and Northern Australia. I know you've been busy on the road in Southern Queensland- or Western Queensland, rather. Keith Pitt, thank you for joining us on Regional Queensland Drive.

KEITH PITT: Great to be with you, great to be with the regions.