Alcoa to scrap old ship for domestic supply chain

Blow to unions and local fleet as aluminium producer looks to save costs

Alcoa to scrap old ship for domestic supply chain
Alcoa will use foreign-flagged ships for its Kwinana-Portland link.


Australia dwindling commercial fleet has lost another locally flagged ship, with Alcoa ditching the MV Portland to the chagrin of unions.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Maritime Union of Australia have waged a losing battle for the coastal fleet, which, like that of many other countries, is internationally uncompetitive.

However, Alcoa points to the parlous state of its industry, the changing regulatory landscape and the suitability of the ageing ship as reasons for the move.

It notes the Portland is near the end of its operating life.

It is 27 years old and is scheduled for a statutory dry-dock in mid-January 2017 and the cost to keep it operational is expected to be in the millions of dollars.

Alcoa has chosen to sell the vessel and replace it with a more cost efficient method of delivery of alumina from Western Australia to the Portland aluminium smelter.

Estimated savings are more than $6 million a year.

Alcoa applied for and was granted, on October 22,  a temporary licence for 17 voyages using a foreign flag vessel to transport alumina between WA and Portland up to October 2016.

The MV Portland is crewed by ASP.

There are about 40 workers in the total crew pool with 19 on the ship at any one time.

"The global aluminium industry is facing very challenging market conditions," an Alcoa spokesman notes.

"Alcoa Inc announced on 2 November that it would idle three smelters in the United States.

"In Australia, our focus is on reducing operating costs and improving productivity to help all our facilities remain internationally competitive.

"Decommissioning the MV Portland is one of a number of cost saving measures being taken by Alcoa in an attempt to help protect approximately 700 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs associated with the Portland smelter."

However, the ACTU says it has questioned why the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, headed by deputy prime minister Warren Truss, granted Alcoa a temporary licence to ship cargo from Western Australia to Victoria.

Currently, coastal shipping legislation dictates that ships operating on domestic trade routes have to be Australian flagged and crewed.

The ACTU met with all unions concerned to discuss the future of the MV Portland and a resolution was moved at yesterday’s executive condemning Alcoa and demanding the re-instatement of the Australian crew.

The ACTU has also written to Alcoa requesting an urgent meeting.

 "I am shocked that Federal Government would enable Alcoa’s move to shed even more jobs," ACTU president Ged Kearney says.

"Any system which would rubber stamp a company’s request to sack Australian workers and replace them with foreign labour needs to be reviewed immediately.

"This is just another example of the Turnbull Government showing its complete disregard for Australian workers.

"I would ask Mr Truss and his department to void the licence which will replace hard-working Australian seafarers with oft-exploited workers from a developing country."

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin described the development as "an extraordinary turn of events".

 "This is an Australian workplace in the Australian transport industry that has safely, reliably and competitively delivering alumina to the company’s operations between Victoria and Western Australia for over 50 years," Crumlin says.

"Australian workers are being rewarded yet again by this Government in complicity with this company for their loyalty, hard-work and professionalism with the sack and forced to watch a foreign workforce be imported to do their job.

"It's a national disgrace."

It is the second reversal in a week at a tough time for the MUA.

BHP ditched tug operator Teekay and its unionised crews for non-unionised Riverside Marine subsidiary Rivtow in the Pilbara.

The MUA, the Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, and the Australian Maritime Officers Union were involved in industrial action that hindered BHP’s Port Hedland operations last year.

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