Australia’s government has committed to forming a ‘strategic fleet’ of vessels to ensure resilience in the country’s maritime industry, which was highlighted as needing long-term investment in a report on the idea. 

The Australian-owned and crewed fleet would consist of up to 12 ships that could be requisitioned in times of national crisis and would address a shortage of Australian-flagged ships, according to the government, which was responding to a report by the Maritime Strategic Fleet Taskforce that has been investigating the idea since it was established in 2022. 

Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King said: “We are getting on with the job of revitalising Australia’s long-neglected maritime sector. 

“The creation of a strategic fleet will build Australia’s resilience and protect our national security and economic sovereignty by enabling the movement of cargo in a time of crisis.” 

The task force’s report, which was submitted to the government in June, highlighted a poor maritime industry in Australia, stating that it would be “almost impossible” to create the fleet without a sustainable pool of Australian-flagged vessels and a “challenge” to even cover 12 vessels with an all-Australian crew. 

It said its findings found that there was interest from the industry in supporting the idea of a strategic fleet but cost was a challenge, adding: “The Taskforce understands there is a cost differential between operating Australian-flagged and foreign-flagged vessels and that this needs to be addressed. 

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“As a nation, we need an Australian fleet and maritime workforce, but it will take change, government assistance and long-term investment and this will need to be sustained well into the future.” 

In addition to its wider conclusions, the task force made 16 recommendations in total, with 12 being agreed or agreed in principle by the government, while the other four will “continue to be explored”. 

The agreed or agreed-in-principle recommendations included streamlining the Australian ship registration process, mandating a minimum number of training berths to be offered on each vessel and providing additional funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman to increase compliance with wage requirements on foreign ships. 

Meanwhile, the points noted by the government included a recommendation to feature six named vessel types, to fund the fleet through a levy on vessel arrivals, and a suggestion to implement a training levy to fund a financial assistance package to meet the costs of training seafarers.

The task force is made up of representatives from the shipping industry, unions, the business sector and the Department of Defence.

The government’s latest commitment to invest in Australia’s maritime industry continues from its May announcement of the Maritime Emissions Reduction National Action Plan to map out a green transition for the industry.