$38.8m push for training ship

  A TRADE-TRAINING ship is being championed as a solution to both freight issues in Tasmania and a national shortage of skilled seafarers.

Bass Labor MHR Geoff Lyons is lobbying his federal counterparts for $38.8 million over three years to fit out a ship to travel once a week between Bell Bay and Brisbane ports, carrying Tasmanian freight and Australian maritime trainees.

The training-trading ship would have up to 100 trainees aboard at any one time, and room for 600 containers that can transfer in Brisbane on to seven international shipping lines heading to north and east Asia.

Mr Lyons said the ship could also be fitted out at Bell Bay.

``This is really good news for Bell Bay as it avoids that extra tax (levied on containers going through Port of Melbourne) . . . (and) also means exporters can avoid the additional road trip to other Tasmanian ports, and get direct access to a number of international shipping lines,'' he said.

The ship would also address Australia's ageing seafaring workforce and shrinking shipping industry. The cost and time needed to train a seafarer is considered prohibitive and the new ship would cut both.

The proposal is the brainchild of NTV Australia - comprised of   Tasmanian companies Asia Pacific Maritime Institute and Pivot Maritime International, and Perth's Gardline Australia.

NTV Australia chairman Jeff Hawkins said the business case was put together over the past 12 months with the blessing of exporters, the maritime industry and unions.

The state and federal governments have also been briefed.

``We need a national system in place to help rebuild the industry,'' Dr Hawkins said.

``If we don't do something along these lines, the industry will continue to slowly die.

``The beauty of this concept is it solves two critical problems: first, the bigger problem of (the industry's) sea time requirements of training, and secondly, it helps Tasmanian exporters.''

Today 22 major trading ships are registered in Australia; less than half of the 55 ships registered in 1995.

Employee numbers have also decreased rapidly from 2400 in 1996 to 1300 now.

The average age of a working seafarer is 48.

Mr Lyons said he had held discussions with ministers  and would continue to lobby hard.

``This is the best proposal that I've seen on freight. All the i's have been dotted  and t's crossed,'' he said.

``My hope is that this happens yesterday as it is a very important step for Tasmania, but in terms of the training it's also a very, very important step forward for Australia.''

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