Orica’s floating storage plan upsets residents

ORICA’S use of a cargo ship to store thousands of tonnes of mining explosive has angered Newcastle residents groups and the state opposition.

But Orica and the state government have downplayed the criticism, saying that all approvals had been given for a practice the company has used before.

Orica spokeswoman Nicole Ekert confirmed the 3000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was stored on the MCP Kopenhagen because it had no space or authorisation to store the explosive on land.

She said Orica had increased its production to cope with a dip in output that would be caused by three weeks of maintenance at its Kooragang Island plant starting next month.

She denied that state government action to reduce the size of an explosives stockpile at Sandgate had affected Orica, because although it used the facility to crush explosive it did not store it there.

She acknowledged that Orica was waiting for Muswellbrook council to approve a 2000-tonne storage facility at Denman.

Orica divisional general manager James Bonnor said ammonium nitrate was regularly moved by sea under state, federal and international regulations.

‘‘The claims that there is anything untoward, or that the community should be concerned about the shipment of ammonium nitrate on the MCP Kopenhagen are ill-founded,” Mr Bonnor said.

Such assurances have not calmed waterfront workers, who blew the whistle on a ship that allegedly had an underpaid crew and a list of safety defects that had to be corrected before the ship could sail.

Maritime Union of Australia Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams said yesterday that maritime safety authorities had forced the flag of convenience vessel to fit portable hydraulic lifters on its decks to enable it to open its deck hatches.

Mayfield residents’ activist John Hayes said the 3000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in bags in the hold of the ship was the same sort of explosive that detonated on a ship in Texas City in 1947, killing more than 500 people.

Mr Hayes said the shipping incident was the latest in a string of controversies that showed Orica was incapable of operating safely.

‘‘We as a community want to be kept safe and at the moment we don’t have confidence in Orica or the authorities, state and federal, to ensure us that we are,’’ Mr Hayes said.

Opposition environment spokesman Luke Foley said the O’Farrell government had secretly permitted Orica to use a ship as a floating warehouse.

But a spokeswoman for Ports Minister Duncan Gay said Labor was scaremongering.

‘‘If Luke Foley was so concerned about the safety of the vessel he should have gone and spoken to his federal Labor colleagues, whose department found the ship to be seaworthy,’’ the spokeswoman said.

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