Union refuses to unload COSCO vessel amid COVID-19 fears

Melbourne, Australia - Feb 10, 2017: Aerial photo of the Port of Melbourne container terminal. It is Australia's busiest cargo port

Shipping Australia Ltd, the main shipping body in Australia, has condemned the Maritime Union of Australia for refusing to unload a COSCO vessel in the Port of Melbourne for fears of COVID-19.

The Xin Da Lian arrived at the Port of Melbourne on 31 April 2020 with approximately 2,000 TEU on board, much of which were medical supplies.

Dockworkers refused to unload the cargo as the union believed the vessel had not completed the 14-day quarantine period.

In response, DP World, the terminal operator, has reportedly stood down 60 dockworkers from the union, and Shipping Australia has described the actions as “unconscionable”.

“The union has falsely claimed that a cargo vessel has docked in breach of 14-day quarantine rules,” Shipping Australia said. 

“The fact is that the 14-day quarantine applies to crew members who must remain onboard until the 14-day period has elapsed.

“The Federal government has not imposed a 14-day quarantine on commercial cargo vessels, which are permitted to berth and work cargo on arrival.”

The vessel had docked in mainland China before moving on to Taiwan, and ultimately Melbourne. Shipping Australia and DP World Australia argue that any 14-day quarantine period refers specifically to vessels originating in mainland China.

It is one of the biggest single docking disputes since the COVID-19 outbreak began. In early March 2020, global maritime stakeholders issued a plea to governments and the UN to keep trade moving throughout the pandemic, a story Port Technology International (PTI) reported on.

Many of the world’s major nations have issued lockdowns and there is uncertainty as to how these will affect the movement of cargo and the running of ports – a matter PTI has investigated.

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