Interview: The Last Bastian
Unions: High and Dry
Security: Liquid Borders
Industrial: No Bully For You
History: Radical Brisbane
International: No Vacancies
Economics: Life After Capitalism
Technology: Cyber Winners
Poetry: Do It Yourself Poetry
Review: Hard Labo(u)r
The Locker Room
The Premiership Quarter
How To Run Society
The Trojan horse is no myth. Two suicide bombers infiltrated a port in a shipping container in March this year. They exploded before they could find their target, taking most of the afternoon shift of port workers with them.
It was the Israeli port of Ashdod, but it could just as easily been here.
Just after the Twin Towers attack, in October 2001, Italian authorities in the port of Gioia Tauro uncovered a man equipped with a satellite phone, a laptop, fraudulent US airport security passes and an airline mechanic's certificate. He was hiding in a US bound shipping container.
Containers ebb and flow through the living beast of world trade - shipping ports - night and day. Australian Customs will now check 7 percent of the 3 million imported into Australia each year. But not one empty container transhipped through our ports rates a glance. Australia is a key redistribution port for these steel packages. Whether a container is really empty is pure speculation.
Shipping is the untapped greenfields site for aspiring terrorists.
In June Turkish authorities uncovered sophisticated missiles hidden on the Maltese flagged Breeze, in April a fishing boat loaded with explosives destroyed a US navy patrol vessel off the Iraqi coast near the Basra oil terminal and Filipino terrorist group Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for a bomb that set fire to the Philippines, killing more than 100 passengers and crew.
Incidents like these are reported in the London based Lloyds List daily and Fairplay shipping magazine with mind numbing repetition. They follow a suicide bomber devastating the Limburg oil tanker in October 2002, and the suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.
Soon after the war on terror was proclaimed, the London Times reported that intelligence agencies across the world were examining Osama bin Laden's multi-million pound shipping interests.
One corporate investigator told the Times: "Uncovering his bank accounts, bogus charities and front companies is child's play compared to piercing the veil of secrecy that protects shipping owners. Backwater countries with flags of convenience have watertight secrecy. And, even if you do find a suspicious ownership, how do you prove the company holding the bearer shares of that vessel is linked to his al-Qaeda network?"
The International Ship and Port Facility Security Code deadline came and went on July 1 with little more than half the world's ships and ports compliant.
Australian Transport Minister John Anderson once raised the spectre of a tanker imploding under the Harbour Bridge. Yet shippers continue to exploit loopholes in the Australian Navigation Act and charter high-risk commercial vessels to carry Australian cargo on our coast.
FoC vessels offer cheap freight rates. They are registered in tax havens such as Panama and Liberia, unencumbered by regulatory scrutiny and crewed by desperate workers from the most impoverished and unstable corners of the globe.
Taking into account both distances and tonnage, foreign ships now carry nearly a third of our coastal domestic cargo as well as 98.6 per cent of our international trade.
It is a threat to national security that beggars the hyperbole directed at the human flotsam of asylum seekers and their leaking craft.
In June the Bahamas-registered, Croatian crewed Etly Danielsen shipped ammonium nitrate to Gladstone. This is the same explosive used in the Bali bombings. In the wrong hands the ship could have been transformed into a weapon of mass destruction. In September, the day the Maritime Transport Security Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives, the Monrovian flagged Henry Oldendorf crewed with Indonesian, Indian, Filipino, Ghanaian, Egyptian, Turkish and Maldives nationals, shipped around 10,000 tonnes of the same potentially lethal fertiliser between NSW and Victoria.
Aegis Research and Intelligence, London, warns in its 2004 report on maritime terrorism: "Polyglot seafarers with uncertain personal IDs - often drawn from countries plagued with Islamic radical violence - crew vessels sailing under flags of convenience."
Led by the US, the International Maritime Organisation is desperately trying to regulate an industry ignored for generations.
Australia's coastal deregulation policy is in stark contrast to the US where legislation protects US flag shipping and prevents any foreign vessels trading on its coast. The US has a zero tolerance policy. Since July 1, it has been turning away ships that don't meet the international security code.
Yet Mr Anderson remains adamant that Australia is a shipper nation, not a shipping nation - a mantra often repeated as if to assure himself all is well. Shipping is a glaring omission in Mr Howard's ritual support of US policy.
In September last year the Independent Review into Australian Shipping co-chaired by one of his former ministers John Sharp warned that promoting cheap foreign shipping on our coast undermined border protection. And on June 23 the joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade backed the Review findings, recommending the government include maritime policy in a comprehensive national security strategy as a matter of urgency.
To date these warnings are ignored. The Howard Government pronouncements on maritime security fail to address the big issues.
• to close the loopholes in the Navigation Act and restrict foreign shipping and guest workers on our coastal trade
• a coast guard
• a register of maritime workers and winding back casualisation across all industries
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