Australia faces a “national emergency” unless it re-establishes a sovereign commercial shipping fleet to ensure the flow of critical goods in times of war and economic sanctions.
The war in Ukraine, alongside Canberra’s geopolitical tensions with Beijing, has highlighted Australia’s vulnerability to security and the economy given its supply chain is almost entirely dependent on ships registered to other countries.
The Australian government was forced last week to request a British ship designed to bring weapons for the defense force to replace the Russian crew members.
The number of ships owned by Australia is expected to wither to just nine by 2024, according to data from Maritime Industries Australia Limited, an industrial association. This includes six roll-on ships, roll-offs used in the Bass Strait and three cement ships but without tankers or oil tankers. In the 1980s, the country boasted about 100 ships in Australia.
Tim Barrett, the former head of the Australian Navy, said 90 per cent of the goods, measured in volume, arrived in the country by sea including fuel, medicines and fertilizers.
“It points to the fragility of our national resilience. Because we have such a small fleet, we depend on other countries,” he said, arguing that Canberra has no control over its supply chain. “We are rapidly approaching a critical point.”
Australia’s heavy industry also relies on foreign – owned ships, leaving them vulnerable to conflict. The BHP mining group, Australia’s largest company, rents the largest land bulk vessels in the world and leases 1,000 ships a year to export minerals.
Theresa Lloyd, CEO of MIAL, said: “Australia is an island nation with no land borders to any other country. “This is a national emergency that we do not have a sustainable commercial shipping fleet that can be called.”
Barrett, who sits on MIAL’s board, said successive Australian governments have failed to support the local shipping industry. “Countries like Japan and Norway have understood the significance of the fact that they are maritime countries and have a trade dependence on things that come through the sea. Let it slip,” he said.
Barrett also noted China’s focus on expanding its shipping industry in areas including capacity, shipbuilding and financing. “All this has not been hidden,” he said of the country’s growing power in the sector to which Australia is very exposed.
Lloyd said Canberra could support a sovereign fleet of 20 ships by providing about £ 150 million ($ 111 million) of tax and other incentives to entice companies to register ships in Australia.
“The government spends billions of dollars on marine protection in light of the volatility of geopolitics. Protection is important, but ensuring the protected people are able to continue to get the essential supplies they need like medicines, fuel and chemicals for clean drinking water is also very important,” she said.
The government has strengthened maritime security in the region through initiatives such as the Okus agreement with the UK and the US, and the construction of Nuclear submarine base On the east coast of the country and a new dry pier is planned in Western Australia.
The government did not respond to a request for comment.
Australia warned it faces ‘national emergency’ as commercial shipping fleet dwindles Source link Australia warned it faces ‘national emergency’ as commercial shipping fleet dwindles