Trade, tankers and pollution in Australia

We’ve come across Australian ports as the bottle-neck of Australia’s export chain previously, if briefly. Recent events in NSW, in particular, have brought the picture into much sharper focus. The port of Newcastle, just a touch above Sydney:

google map, Newcastle

is the setting. About a month ago (the 8th of June), the area copped the worst storm it had had for 30 years. This broke the supply chain of coal from the mines to the port in Newcastle – but not the supply of ships heading to the port to pick it up. They wait outside the port: at their peak they numbered 80, and they wait on average 32 days. At the moment 66 are still waiting, and it will take until September for the queue to number less than 30 again.


Bloody impressive, what?

The Sydney Morning Herald ran the numbers for this, figuring that, with 20 to 30 crewing each collier ship, around 2000 or so were sitting out there. The result?

Surfers along a 120-kilometre stretch of coastline between Newcastle and Sydney’s northern beaches have noticed little sachets of soy sauce coming in on the tide.

Other rubbish, such as food wrappers, discarded maritime odds and sods, magazines and other items bored crewmen might absent-mindedly drop overboard appeared about the time that the fleet that was going nowhere began growing alarmingly along the horizon.

The chairman of Surf Rider Foundation Australia, Chris Goal, said yesterday it was feared the fleet was causing far more pollution than most people realised.

“While we’d like to believe the ship and their crews comply with the various regulations and the requirements but we wonder about compliance,” Mr Goal said.

“Many of the ships fly flags of convenience and it’s understandable that crews being forced to hang around for weeks waiting in a queue to get into Newcastle will drop stuff overboard – we’ve been getting word from surfers all along the coast that stuff is coming in off the boats.

“Then there is the question of ballast. The ships are pumping out ballast in order to get into port faster and get loaded and there’s no knowing what’s in the water that has been sitting in the bottom of the vessels.”

Flags of Convenience, to save you looking elsewhere, refers to the practice of registering tankers in countries with less-than-stellar regulation of things like safety.

A famous (Australian) recent example of course is the Pasha Bulker, who was told to anchor farther out than she did, did not listen, and ended up on Nobby’s Beach for the duration:

Pasha Bulker pic

flickr 2

flickr 3

To be fair, it proved to be a fine tourist attraction while it was playing at immense environmental hazard. Owned by Japanese company Fukujin Kisen, registered in Panama and with a Filipino/Korean crew. If that isn’t globalisation, then I just don’t know what is.

So. Trying to find out just how many ships kick about the ports and waters of Australia. I found a report from Spill Con 2000, via the Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre and the Australian Institute of Petroleum. It contained this map:

Shipping density map

Telling me that I need to incorporate maps into my own research somehow. Those dots are not encouraging. Funnily enough, the nature of the routes makes Western Australia at the biggest risk. In terms of Australia specifically, though, I have only seen much on the Great Barrier Reef. One very interesting paper, Marine Policy: Shipping and Ports, contains a lot of information. Such as that 90% of international trade today is carried by maritime shipping. And that Tthe world’s seaborne trade is carried by an international fleet of about 25,000 ocean-going commercial cargo ships of more than 1,000 gt displacement, and growing:

Maritime Policy Table 4

Interestingly, it also told me that Panama is the largest registrar of ships, and the others at the top of the list don’t strike me as likely to be better. Given which, I wonder whether it isn’t time to pay more attention to the waste, of various types, our oceans receive from maritime shipping.


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