A ship is a complicated thing. It has machinery and equipment for navigation and cargo handling, it generates its own power, carries its own fuel, feeds and accommodates its crew and most importantly it has a main engine to drive the ship from port to port and turn a profit. But a ship has to have a crew to make all these systems work.
A ship without a crew does none of these things, it becomes a floating liability. It doesn’t carry cargo and doesn’t earn an income. A ship that isn’t trading makes massive drains on the owner’s purse with things like layup costs, on-going maintenance, demurrage, insurance and survey fees-the costs keep mounting up.
There is estimated to be about 90, 000 ships trading worldwide (that’s roughly 2 million seafarers at sea at any one time) but at the moment they are more like prisons than ships. COVID 19 has trapped tens of thousands of seafarers on ships with very little hope of being relieved or getting home. A similar number are unable to work, to join the ships, thwarted by lockdown rules in countries around the world. Some crews have been trapped in this situation for over 12 months, unable to leave their ship (even in port) and unable to swing off on leave. Mental health issues like depression and despondency are on the rise. Suicides are prevalent but seldom reported. Many seafarers come from poor countries like the Philippines, Bangladesh and from eastern Europe.
One of the biggest marine training colleges in the world is in the Philippines. Each year, they turn out thousands of seafarers mainly from impoverished backgrounds, to pursue a career at sea. They’re young, keen and willing to work at sea to get ahead. They leave behind grinding poverty to get a better life at sea. Many turn out to be extremely good at their jobs. And they come very cheap. So cheap in fact, that the general public doesn't even recognize the part they play in getting their goods to them. They are the forgotten ones. But without them the ships can’t operate.
Australia is unique in that it is an island nation, totally dependent on shipping. In the tiny slice of world shipping, Australia hardly rates a mention. Our population is smaller than that of California or even cities like Shanghai. Yet because we are an island nation Australia sits near the top of the list of the world’s largest importers and exporters, all by sea. For example, our biggest export, iron ore, generates over $100 billion income a year (about one third of this is to China alone). The iron ore trade is crucial to Australia’s economic health. In fact, almost all of our trade is by sea. So, it’s not surprising that any disruption to the so-called “supply chain” will cause major disruptions to our way of life.
Already there’s been so much written about COVID 19 that it hardly needs more analysis by this author. Yet COVID 19 has impacted every single person’s life and unbeknown to most of us, our supply chain teeters on the brink of collapse. Recent incidents in Australia have highlighted this situation. Shipping, our link with the world trade, is in danger of being strangled.
It all started with the Ruby Princess fiasco in Sydney which spread across Australia. The press covered the plight of COVID infected passengers in detail. Nothing was said about the crew. Then there was the cruise ship Artania in Fremantle. This ship incurred long delays, again the crew were ignored (unless, of course, if they were infected themselves). The livestock carriers Al-Kuwait and Al-Messiah, in Fremantle have had delays and disruptions from COVID 19. There was the Key Integrity in Geraldton and in Port Hedland we've had the crews of the Patricia Oldendorff and the Vega Dream taken ashore and isolated, leaving their ships undermanned and vulnerable. Bear in mind the cyclone season in the Pilbara is almost upon us. Ships of this size pose an enormous threat if they are undermanned if a cyclone hits the anchorage.
There are two critical issues here. One is ships in port with COVID affected crews and the other is ships at anchor in a cyclone prone region. The ships in port have extended stays tying up berths and incurring massive deep cleaning costs. A costly exercise. The ships at anchor are another issue entirely. They must steam away, they can’t be towed, so with a skeleton crew they proceed to sea. Then what?
Putting aside our moral obligation to treat infected crews there is a real jurisdictional issue of who is responsible for these people. Little is heard from the ships’ managing agents even though they have an obligation to provide a safe workplace for their crews. It appears that the least of their worries are the crews on board.
At the same time the charterers are keeping their heads down. Their job is to charter the cheapest ship available for the job. The ships come with a crew, that’s the end of their legal obligation. There is no obligation to ensure the crews are COVID free. But who remembers the Ships of Shame Inquiries of the 1990s? Perhaps now is the time for the charterers to again come under scrutiny.
In these crisis times the crews aren’t really considered. They are treated as a commodity, the cheapest ships get the work, irrespective of the possiblity (or in this case, probability) of exposure to the crew to COVID 19.
The legal ramifications of who is ultimately responsible for the ships’ crews once they are in Australian waters pose another new and unresolved dilemma for “authorities”. I’m sure Pilbara Ports, responsible for the world’s largest bulk port have studied all the scenarios that they are faced with in Port Hedland, particularly during the cyclone season. But what is the answer? Do ships sail away short-handed or do they risk being driven ashore? A tough judgment call.
What happens to the remaining crew on board? Where do the ships go and how are they manned? All these problems ignore the human aspect of the crew’s welfare. What becomes of the crew members brought ashore for isolation? Are they sent home? Do they return to their ship after they are given the all-clear? When and how do they crew change? What becomes of the ship after leaving the anchorage? Does it still fall under the control of Australian "authorities" or are they back on the high seas? Are they in breach of their safe manning certificate? (yes). But this is an unforeseen emergency situation. How do flag, Class, insurers and the P&I Clubs view this situation? This is the situation that exists in Australia. Extrapolate this to a worldwide scenario.
Rightly or wrongly, the Commonwealth and State government authorities are acting with the best intentions for the safety of the seafarer’s health when they take them into isolation ashore. But our government’s primary focus is on the welfare of our immediate population. Who is looking at the long game? The seafarer’s welfare. Are they repatriated or are they prisoners of their ships? It depends on who makes the ultimate decisions for these crews.
They can’t turn to a union for support. The fledgling Philippines Seafarers Union, for example, hasn’t the wherewithal to deal with the complex problems of COVID 19 and the effects on their members. Probably no union in the world has experience with such a far reaching and complicated issue as COVID 19 and ships crews. There are the various Missions to Seafarers around the world but they can only deal with the consequences of this unique situation on a small scale in their individual ports. Surprisingly, ITLOS, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, doesn’t address crew welfare directly. Does the discretion of the ship’s master come into play? The local flag state authorities have limited jurisdictional clout. None look at the most integral part of the ship, its crew.
I sought a legal opinion from one of Australia’s leading maritime lawyers. He said essentially each case is different and it comes down to a judgment call of the Master. But the Master will be under tremendous pressure from the Charterers, the Owners, Class and flag and insurers not to mention Port Authorities and health experts. The decision, when its finally made, doesn’t consider the forgotten ones- the crew members.
by Kent Stewart FAIMS
Image: Alexey Seafarer, Adobe Stock
As grain exports begin for the season, with record crops expected, Surveyors must make sure their Fitness to Load Certificates meet Department of Agriculture requirements.
Our Certificate template is approved compliant and available for use.
Cert of Fitness to Load Grain
Certified Commercial Marine Surveyors™
Raising the standards for Marine Surveyors. Applications to become an AIMS Certified Commercial Marine Surveyor™ are now open until the 20th November 2020. For further details contact Stacey Taylor at email@example.com.
AIMS wishes to congratulate full member Simon Gravenall on his appointment as Chief Executive Officer at Maritime Safety Authority Fiji.
With an extensive history in the Maritime industry including executive positions Simon's career has included positions in both the commercial and government sectors both domestically and internationally.
Simon's drive for marine surveying standards has been a factor since the inception of the creation of the first accredited diploma in marine surveying in the world. A true watershed moment for the industry which could not have been achieved without the dedication of the national working committee which Simon also contributed to .
AIMS is confident the combination of Simon's experience and marine surveyor background makes him well placed to lead MSAF.
When asked Simon stated ‘ I am very humbled to accept this position and look forward to working with the AIMS as the peak industry body for all sectors of the Marine Surveying in the Australasian/Pacific region’
Well done Simon and good luck in your role.
White Fleet market growing at a rate of knots
The Superyacht and White Fleet market is growing exponentially in the Australasian region. Expectation is that our region will be recognised as a key Superyacht hub, with an increase by over 10% of the market expected within the next few years alone, a huge jump from our current position. The demand for highly skilled and qualified experts in their field is expected to increase and AIMS stands ready to embrace the opportunities this will create for our members.
AIMS has expanded our member Certification to encompass our qualified and experienced members who work in the White Fleet sector and will be working with our members to represent our surveyors and ensure that this growing industry is given every opportunity to thrive in Australasia.
As we move with the times with this new launch, we are already on our way to having our first Certified Superyacht surveyor amongst our ranks, Greg Marsden from Marsden Marine Services in New Zealand. Greg already has significant experience in this area and is expected to be the first of many AIMS members who will apply to become Certified in this sector.
Anyone seeking Certification with AIMS as a marine surveyor can contact Stacey Taylor on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
In blatant disregard for the Federal decision to keep shipping and cargo moving in Australia and despite having an exemption pass with a September 30 expiry date and authority to travel as an 'essential services worker' an AIMS cargo surveyor has this morning been detained in Queensland.
We have been advised that QLD police contacted Maritime Safety Queensland to check if maritime workers and marine surveyors were considered essential and that Maritime Safety Queensland advised that marine surveyors were not considered 'essential'.
Attempts at intervention from several agencies including the federal Maritime and Shipping Branch of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications were unsuccessful this morning and Queensland authorities have refused to release the surveyor to undertake his duties.
All marine surveyors should be aware that Queensland 'will not budge' and that while shipping has been exempt in Queensland and all other States it appears that different QLD jurisdictions have their own rules. You can no longer rely on your exemption pass and there is little that can be done to assist you.
Please, all marine surveyors be very wary, do not travel to Queensland - contact us to help you find a surveyor in the area that you need your survey carried out. Do not rely on your exemption pass or authorisation to travel.
The assistant director of the Department of Agriculture’s Grain and Seed Exports Program (Plant Division), Rachel Hayes, has recently clarified the required wording on Grain Fitness to Load Certificates. Specifically, the guidelines for the inspection of empty bulk vessels states the following,
“If a bulk vessel is intended to carry prescribed goods for consumption, a qualified marine surveyor must issue a certificate stating the relevant holds of the bulk vessel are suitable for loading the prescribed goods”.
We have had confirmation from the Department of Agriculture that either of the below certificates are compliant and acceptable Fitness to Load Certificates. #certifiedmarinesurveyors #grain #exports
Cert of Fitness to Load Grain - Version 1.pdf
Cert of Fitness to Load Grain - Version 2.pdf
It’s that official time of year when our thoughts turn to boats, cruising, fishing, and all of the lovely experiences that come with getting out on the water on a nice fine day.
Sadly though, accidents and tragedies do happen and they happen all too often! This year alone has seen several fatalities, near misses, and some very scary trips out on the water.
The AIMS is standing up to be the ‘voice’ of the industry and, given that Spring is the start of the boating season we will be launching several different information campaigns that we hope will assist boat owners and new buyers to understand the need for a thorough survey by a professional Certified Surveyor with the right qualifications and experience.
The AIMS has collated a wide range of information on boating incidents and evidence shows that the vast majority (over 78%) of the attended incidents are related to a lack of care and maintenance and, further, while most people ensure that they get their car serviced regularly, boat owners neglect regular services and checks on their vessels, put them off if they can or believe that a recreational vessel doesn’t need a periodic survey to check the condition of the vessel.
We know too that many boat owners believe that an insurance survey is all that is required when considering buying a new boat when what is actually required is good old fashioned safety and condition report. It can save you money and your life.
Boat owners need to know that not all marine surveyors are created equal and that just because a person advertises themselves as such it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are qualified or experienced to survey the boat you have your eye on.
Make sure that you get a qualified surveyor, preferably a Certified Surveyor, and that they are a listed AIMS member. Get help from us if you are unsure.
Before taking your boat out – get a survey done.
Before buying a boat – get the right survey done, by the right surveyor.
Think safety first, enjoy the season and come home safely from a day on the water.
Due to the current COVID-19 circumstances, all industry associations have been advised that they may conduct their AGM when restrictions are lifted or present 2020 financial information to members at the 2021 AGM.
As the Executive team (at the advice of an overwhelming majority of members) considered that a leadership change in the face of a global and national pandemic crisis was not in the best interests of the AIMS it was agreed to defer nominations for President and Vice President until next year when a face to face AGM could be convened.
As there are no nominations and no resolutions to be resolved at this year’s AGM the meeting was expected to be largely a reporting exercise, and, as such, the Executive have officially deferred the Annual General Meeting for 2019/2020 until 2021.
We would like to advise that our end of financial year reporting and auditing will continue to be finalised as planned and that all members, regardless of their membership level, will be provided with a digital copy of the Annual Report via email by close of business on Friday 28th August.
The Executive encourages all members to read the report and to submit any queries, concerns or suggestions regarding the report to the Executive in writing via email to email@example.com.
Please be assured that any and all queries will be answered in writing to the member or members as the case may be. Although it is highly unlikely that any action would be required from member queries our advice is that, should the need arise we may conduct committee meetings, general meetings using technology and / or pass ordinary and special resolutions by either postal or electronic ballot.
Both the President and I thank our members for their wise advice and support during these very challenging times and hope that all members and especially our hard hit Victorian members are managing to keep afloat. If our head office team can be of any support or provide assistance please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Susan Hull – CEO
The AMSA press release (22nd July) outlining their response to recent events where containers have been lost into the sea off the Australian Coast is welcomed wholeheartedly by the AIMS who support the move as long overdue.
The recent container overboard events highlight the pressures on shippers and agents to keep costs down but at what price and who really pays? We know that these pressures are real but no ship should be allowed to depart our waters without a sign off from an independent qualified surveyor AND the Master prior to a container vessel sailing from a Port.
The new 3 month campaign will commence tomorrow (August 1st) and will focus on container stowage and lashing arrangements - a specialised field that few if any PSC inspectors are trained in or qualified to undertake.
As noted in the new advice stowage and securing of unitised cargo is not considered to be the role of PSC inspectors and AMSA advice is that "wherever appropriate" surveyors will undertake these inspections in conjunction with normal PSC inspections and there is provision for inspections (surveys) to take place on any vessel regardless of whether the vessel is eligible for a PSC inspection.
Lets hope it's always appropriate and that AMSA take advantage of a ready supply of Certified surveyors who can assist in advising mariners and on shore personnel to apply the standards required to protect vessels, seafarers and keep the marine environment safe.
It's time to do something that's for sure and certainly time to legislate the need for a qualified surveyor.
The full notice can be downloaded here
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