QUEENSLAND beaches could be put at a higher risk of oil spills if more foreign ships are allowed to operate within Australian waters.
A controversial plan from Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss would allow foreign-owned and operated ships to transport freight between Australian ports, a task mostly restricted to local ships at the moment.
Since 2001, five of the six major oil pollution incidents in Australian waters have occurred off the Queensland coast.
Each involved a foreign-flagged ship.
Among those was the Shen Neng 1 that ran aground on the Douglas Shoal on the Great Barrier Reef off Great Keppel Island in 2010.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found the ship's chief mate had slept just 2.5 hours in the 38.5 hours before the disaster.
The year before the Shen Neng incident, the Pacific Adventurer ran aground off Cape Moreton in south-east Queensland, dropping 270 tonnes of heavy fuel and 31 containers into the ocean.
The fuel washed up along 56km of beaches, including parts of the Sunshine Coast and on Bribie and Moreton islands.
The use of foreign-flagged ships is under scrutiny from a Senate inquiry following the suspicious deaths of two men aboard the Sage Sagittarius in 2012.
Under the government's proposal, foreign crews could avoid working to Australian laws, lowering the cost of transporting freight nationally.
The government believes if shipping is made more competitive, the industry could boost productivity and the economy.
Mr Truss's office declined to answer specific questions about the impact of the reforms until after the release of the inquiry's report, due next week.
In mid-2015 while pushing the maritime changes, Mr Truss told Federal Parliament it was more expensive to ship sugar from Thailand to Australia than to ship it between Australian ports.
In a submission to the inquiry, the Department of Border Protection warned foreign ships may not follow international laws, and may rely on smaller crews.
These factors "contribute to a heightened risk to the environment", the department found, "potentially leading to a compromise to biosecurity, for example through poor ballast water management or by causing maritime pollution".
International Transport Workers Federation coordinator Dean Summers said foreign crews may also be less likely to respect the environment.
"If you're an Australian seafarer travelling around the Australian coast, the last thing you would do is pollute the waters," he said.
"But a Burmese seafarer who fears for his livelihood and his life - the last thing he's going to care about is complaining about the captain and the engineer who are trying to save money."
Opposition infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese said the reforms were "against Australia's economic, environmental, strategic and national security interests".
The Senate voted down the proposals on November 26.
Mr Truss said the Federal Government remains committed to the changes.
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