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Issue #1546      9 May 2012

Toxic threat looms again for Newcastle

Newcastle and the waters beyond face a looming toxic threat, with a dangerously sub-standard vessel entering Australian waters for the first time last month to take on some of Orica’s excess ammonium nitrate, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has warned.

Orica is permitted to store a certain quantity of toxic and explosive ammonium nitrate at its Newcastle berth. However, the company has overproduced and now plans to load the excess onto a sub-standard Flag Of Convenience vessel MCP Kopenhagen and send it to sea while the supply is cleared.

However, MCP Kopenhagen has recently been the subject of inspections by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which indicate abhorrent conditions on board as well as serious safety defects.

MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith has warned that it is unacceptable for Orica to load a volatile and highly dangerous substance like ammonium nitrate onto a vessel like the MCP Kopenhagen in Australian waters.

“The MCP Kopenhagen is one of the worst vessels the MUA has ever seen. Recent inspections found eight serious safety defects including faulty sewage, faulty radio, faulty electrics and a faulty navigation system,” Mr Smith said.

“The crew on board are treated abhorrently. Some have not been able to leave the vessel for over 15 months. When inspectors boarded the ship recently they found the food locker full of rancid meat and rotting vegetables – it was simply disgusting. You would not treat animals the way the MCP Kopenhagen crew are treated.”

He said the crew have even been rationed to 300 millilitres of water a day while carrying this incredibly toxic and explosive load from Orica. “I sincerely doubt whether the people of Newcastle want a vessel like this loading ammonium nitrate on board and then occupying Australian waters for ten days with its deadly load.

“Orica has a long and sordid history of environmental breaches in Newcastle and it seems they have no intention of changing their modus operandi now. They are currently looking all over the Hunter for a permanent home for their oversupplies of ammonium nitrate, when they could simply use a safe, Australian-licensed ship to look after it and transport it safely.

“Using a German-owned ship, operating under a Maltese flag, managed by a Greek company with offices in the Marshall Islands designed to avoid appropriate regulation is to treat the people of Newcastle and their environment with disdain. There is a real and frightening risk of something going wrong on a vessel like the MCP Kopenhagen. The Pasha Bulker incident * was bad enough – I shudder to think what would happen if a similar accident were to occur with this ship.”

*Early on the morning of June 8, 2007, Newcastle Port Corporation radioed the 56 moored ships waiting off the coast to load coal to warn them to move out to sea to escape the approaching storm. The Pasha Bulker – a Flag of Convenience vessel – along with 10 other ships did not heed the warning. As the storm hit the Pasha Bulker could not clear the coast and it became beached. The ship never called for tug boat assistance, ran aground with a fully operational engine room and still had both anchors stored in the hawse pipe leading maritime experts to believe that proper precautions were not taken by the ship’s captain.

After the Pasha Bulker ran aground the 22 Filipino and Korean crew members aboard were successfully rescued from the vessel, however it remained grounded about 30 metres from the shore at the popular Nobbys Beach. The ship contained around 700 tonnes of fuel oil, 38 tonnes of diesel and 40 tonnes of lube oil, which if released could have caused a major ecological disaster.  

Next article – Book Review – Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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