BHP and Bluescope Steel will lay off 80 Australian seafarers and retire the remaining two Australian-manned bulk carriers from service, the Maritime Union of Australia said.

MV Lowlands Brilliance (pictured) and Mariloula will cease Australian coastal iron ore trade and their China coal run, MUA National Secretary Paddy Cumlin explained.

Current shipping arrangements do not expire between BHP and Bluescope until June this year but company management has not told the uinion of reasons for the decision.

Mr Crumlin said the two vessels move iron ore from BHP’s mining operations in Port Hedland to BlueScope’s steelworks in Port Kembla, then run coal to China before returning to Port Hedland and qualify as cabotage trade.

Many Australians have known someone who worked on the famous fleet of BHP iron boats, yet the company wants to end more than 100 years of proud trade by sending a couple of sneaky emails in early January,” said Mr Crumlin.

One in eight merchant seafarers died defending this country in two world wars and their legacy deserves a lot more than this treacherous, underhanded attempt to dump Australian workers ahead of a federal election.”

In a letter to the company seeking answers, the union expressed surprise and regret at the vessels’ removal from freight services contracted to BlueScope and, consequently, removal from Australian coastal and international trade.

The decision has the potential to devastatingly affect Australian seafarers and will see BlueScope’s supply chain effectively removing Australia labour from the local Australian industry, being replaced by highly exploited foreign crews paid as low as $2 per hour,” the letter says.

The union understands there to be considerable availability of Cape Size Bulk vessels suitable for the BlueScope freight task currently performed by the MV Mariloula and MV Lowlands Brilliance.

We urge BlueScope to utilise Australian seafaring labour in its local supply chain. Australian seafarers have serviced BHP and subsequently Bluescope steel works in this country for more than 100 years.

This contribution to the company by Australian seafarers deserves ongoing certainty of their employment in BlueScope’s shipping supply chain. We note that during the period of wage freeze by workers including seafarers the Company made a $1.6 billion profit,” the letter says.

Mr Crumlin said the MUA had historically worked constructively with both BHP and Bluescope to meet cabotage requirement, including pay freezes during periods of economic downturn. The MUA remains deeply concerned with BlueScope’s lack of consultation and discussion prior to the announcement by BHP, as well as the fact BlueScope is planning to shut down a trade that has run successfully for more than 100 years when alternatives are available.

The ships – the last remaining Australian vessels to service BHP and subsequently Bluescope steelworks – are the Malta-registered 86,000 tonne MV Lowlands Brilliance (2002) and Marshall Islands-flag 94,000 tonne Mariloula (2008).

Image credit ~ Wikimedia