BlueScope and BHP are increasingly using foreign-crewed ships under temporary licences to deliver cargo to the Port Kembla steelworks, in what has been dubbed “a national disgrace” by maritime unions.
The apparent preference for international crews over Australian seafarers comes after BHP revealed earlier this month it was terminating the contracts of the last two Australian-crewed ships – the Mariloula and Lowlands Brilliance – which carry iron ore to the steelworks.
Maritime unions say at least 70 seafarers will lose their jobs; replaced by overseas crews on foreign ships.
On Friday, the ‘Heroic’ – a Greek-registered and foreign-crewed vessel – berthed at BlueScope’s discharge wharf in Port Kembla, with a load of 140,000 tonnes of iron ore from Port Hedland.
Martin Byrne, the federal secretary of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) said the ship’s cargo could have been carried by the Mariloula or Lowlands Brilliance.
Data obtained by the Mercury showed that over the past six years, BHP has used a large number of foreign ships under temporary licences, with overseas crews carrying iron ore to supplement that being delivered by the two abandoned Australian-crewed ships.
The figures, provided by the AIMPE, revealed there were 13 temporary-licence voyages between Port Hedland and Port Kembla in 2013, 10 trips in 2014, 16 during 2015, 17 in 2016, and 15 in both 2017 and 2018.
Mr Byrne said BHP’s use of ships under temporary licence was tipped to increase to 24 voyages in 2019, based on the number of applications already lodged for the first quarter of this year.
“We’ve already seen applications for six loads of iron ore from Port Hedland,” he said.
“The applications were placed in December, before Christmas, so that’s when BHP knew that it was implementing this change.”
Mr Byrne said the loss of the two Australian-manned ships meant it appeared all of the iron ore would now arrive at the steelworks on foreign-crewed vessels using federal government-issued temporary licences.
“This is a national disgrace,” he said.
BlueScope’s Port Kembla steelworks has had iron ore freight contracts with BHP since it was publicly listed (as BHP Steel) in 2002. The current contract expires in June.
A BlueScope spokesman said it operated in a “highly competitive, trade-exposed, global steel industry”.
“We must ensure that we have internationally competitive raw material supply arrangements, so our local manufacturing operations, which employ 6,500 Australians, remain viable,” he said.
“BlueScope is currently exploring options for future iron ore supply, and we expect a greater diversity of suppliers will be engaged in future, necessitating a more diverse mix of shipping.
“These arrangements will be through commercial negotiations with the various iron ore suppliers.”
BHP rubbished the claim it would use 24 ships under temporary licences in 2019.
The data showed BlueScope has also used a large number of ships under temporary licences to transport coal, iron ore, manganese and steel products to and from the steelworks.