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Australian bushfire crisis prompt calls for more emergency response vessels

news 05 Feb 2020

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) have launched a petition calling on the Australian government to purchase the Aurora Australis – a multi-purpose research and resupply ship that will be retired after the summer from service with the Australian Antarctic Division – for use as an emergency response vessel during natural disasters.

Over the past 5 months, Australia has experienced unprecedented bushfires on a scale that the modern world has never seen. The impact on communities, the tragic loss of life and property, the hundreds of millions of animals that have been killed and the devastation to the Australian landscape is staggering, and sadly not yet over.

Throughout the crisis civilian vessels have provided vital support to isolated communities that have been severely impacted by the fires, delivering food, water, fuel and other relief supplies, assisting with evacuations and transporting defence equipment and personal, and providing emergency shelter to people seeking refuge.

The launch of the MUA petition follows a proposal from the Australian Labor Party calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acquire the Aurora Australis and develop Australia’s civilian maritime emergency response capacity to respond to future bushfire crises and other natural disasters including floods and cyclones.

The call for public support also coincides with a global meeting of ITF’s Cabotage Task Force in Australia, where maritime unions will this week be discussing the importance and significance of sustaining strong national shipping industries.

Jim Given, president of the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada and chair of the ITF’s Cabotage Task Force, said that ITF unions globally join in urging the Morrison government to secure the Aurora Australis and to strengthen Australia’s domestic shipping industry. 

“The reason we’re in Australia and heading to parliament this week is to discuss the importance of reinvigorating Australia’s domestic shipping industry.”

“The devastating bushfires that have gripped Australia over the past five months, and the emergency response from civilian vessels, is a stark reminder to the Morrison government of why a strong domestic maritime industry is critical to delivery supplies and supporting impacted communities during desperate times like these.”

“The Morrison Government has an immediate opportunity through the purchase of the Aurora Australis to strengthen this capacity to protect its citizens, in what would be an important first step in the creation a strategic fleet of Australian-crewed vessels vital to protecting Australia’s economic, environmental, and national security interests.”

Leader of the Seafarers’ International Union and ITF Seafarers’ Section chair, Dave Heindel, also highlighted the vital role of the US merchant marine in disaster response and importance of America’s strong national cabotage laws, commonly referred to as the Jones Act.

“In America, our domestic fleet is an important part of the national maritime infrastructure that can be made available at a moment’s notice in times of national emergency.”

“Maintaining strong cabotage laws is what ensures that any country's merchant fleet can support it in peacetime, and wartime, when required to do so. Without such laws and national leadership, a country risks relying on foreign-flagged vessels for its emergency response capacity. Right now the Prime Minister has an opportunity to lead, and we urge him to do so.”

Can you add your name to the petition calling on the Australian government to buy the Aurora Australis? Add your name here.

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