Crew have halted the final voyage of an Alcoa-owned alumina bulker to Singapore by refusing to sail the ship, which is to be sold and replaced with a foreign-flagged vessel with an international crew, reports say.
Forty Australian crew members, 19 of whom were due to sail on board the Portland are protesting against the loss of their jobs and of the bulker, which has been engaged in the cabotage trade for nearly three decades.
Image: Hans Fairhurst
Portland has carried alumina from Western Australia to Alcoa’s aluminium smelting plant at Portland, western Victoria, for 27 years. One crew member told Australian press the crew had been told it was to be their last voyage to Portland some 10 minutes after they had left Kwinana, Western Australia. Crew are now due to sail the ship from Portland to Singapore, where it will be sold by Alcoa.
Alcoa expects to save around A$6m ($4.3m) a year by replacing the ship and hiring a crew of foreign nationals, who can be paid less than Australians.
“Currently it is cheaper to ship alumina from Western Australia to the Middle East or China than it is to ship it to Victoria,” a statement from the company said.
The Australian government is trying to reform its cabotage laws, and has granted Alcoa a temporary coastal licence to allow a foreign ship and crew to ply the Western Australia-Portland route. The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has called publically for the licence to be revoked.
A spokesman for Alcoa told national press that the aluminium industry faces “tough market conditions” and the commodity price has slumped. Three smelters in the United States were idled this month. Last year, Alcoa closed its smelter at Point Henry, Geelong, Australia.