Alcoa faces calls to ban foreign shipping licence

The captain of a ship contracted by Alcoa to replace its Australian vessel has faced damning evidence of bribery, prompting calls to suspend the aluminium producer’s anti-cabotage licence.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said inspectors found paperwork documenting a number of bribes paid by the former captain of the Singapore-registered bulk carrier Strategic Alliance to a shipping inspector and drug enforcement and immigration authorities in Nigeria.

The ITF and Maritime Union of Australia called on the deputy prime minister Warren Truss to immediately suspend Alcoa’s special licence which allowed Alcoa to replace its Australian ship and crew.

Management for the shipping contractor denied any involvement in the bribery, saying the captain had paid “under the table” money “without our knowledge”.

Documents drawn up by the captain as statements of account for MTM Ship Management specifically label payments of between $100 and $3500 as “under table money”, with some reasons listed as “for clearance” and hold inspection.

The paperwork was found aboard the ship by ITF inspectors who boarded in Portland on Sunday.

MTM spokesperson Robert Viro said the captain from Myanmar was no longer with the company’s fleet.

The incident raises issues for the deregulation of the Australian shipping industry to allow flag-of-convenience shipping, intended to reduce the cost of domestic freight handling.

Alcoa was granted the special licence in October, which allows them to use the Strategic Alliance for shipping from Kwinana at a cost saving of $6 million per year due to the crew’s low wages, estimated at $207 per week.

ITF national co-ordinator Dean Summers said there were obvious security implications in allowing a shipping company into Australia which had been implicated in systematic bribery of government and drugs law enforcement officials.

SMH reported politicians from both sides expressed disbelief and outrage on Friday in the Senate inquiry into Flag of Convenience shipping, when it was revealed senior officials from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development did not feel there was a need to check the ownership of ships plying the Australian coast.

ITF Seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel said the evidence uncovered a model of bribery and underhand dealings with this ship.

“That’s not something we’d accept in the US and we're appalled that this type of behaviour still happens in global shipping,” he said.

“The federal government of Australia needs to take action now to suspend the cabotage-busting licence Alcoa has been granted and there must be a thorough and extensive investigation. Nothing less will do.”

ITF maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith said the systematic and organised nature of the records indicated the captain may have been forced to undertake bribery due to “external pressures”.

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