A Canadian shipping company has taken over a fleet of three coastal bulk carriers from Cement Australia to put shipping back into the bulk freight business between Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.
Canadian Steamship Lines Australia, which is run out of St Leonards in Sydney, has paid an undisclosed price for MV Goliath (16,000 dwt) and MV Cementco (15,000dwt), and taken over a bareboat charter on Alcem Calaca (11,000dwt).
CSL is the world’s biggest operator of self-unloading bulk carriers.
According to Cement Australia, the sales would allow it to concentrate on upgrading its manufacturing operations.
Cement Australia produces 3.5Mta of cement, employing 1400 people in the regional centres of Railton in Tasmania, Kandos in NSW and Gladstone in Queensland. Chief executive Chris Leon said his company preferred to use the $50m cost of replacing and upgrading the ships to improve his company’s output and environmental performance.
Shipping remained "by far" the cheapest way to move cement, he said.
More than 70 crew on the three ships, however, docked in various ports last week to find they were being paid off.
CSL Australia managing director Chris Sorensen said his company would be able to offer jobs to at least some of them.
He would not say how many, but he did say his company spent more than $1m a year training Australian crews.
The three ships would remain crewed by Australians and registered in Australia, and would be joined next year by a $50m vessel under construction in China, which would also be Australian-registered and crewed. It is understood this ship, expected in about October 2008, will be the biggest of the four.
"There has not been a new ship of this type built as an Australian-registered vessel for at least 20 years," Mr Sorensen said.
Foreign-registered vessels generally operate on lower pay rates and over the past two decades Australia’s register of merchant shipping has become shorter, consisting mainly of tugs and supply ships.
Fewer than 10 Australian-registered bulk carriers operate around the coast, most being much smaller than the 150,000dwt Capesize ships, so named because they are too big to use the Panama or Suez canals. They carry coal and iron ore to international ports.
To reduce operator costs, almost all Capesize ships that queue up off the coast are flag-of-convenience vessels registered in Liberia or Panama.
Although Australian coastal traffic is supposedly the province of Australian-registered vessels, foreign ship operators commonly get around the regulation by obtaining special single-voyage permits under a system known as cabotage.
Maritime Union of Australia secretary Paddy Crumlin welcomed the agreement to maintain the ships as Australian flagged and crewed.
He said it was in the best interests of the country, the crew and the companies involved.