One of  Smit Lamnalco's tug boats in the Gladstone harbour.
One of Smit Lamnalco's tug boats in the Gladstone harbour.

Tug boat operator in war of words with union

A WAR of words has erupted between the Maritime Union and tugboat operator Smit Lamnalco Towage.

The union claims maritime workers have "blown the whistle" on a series of engine explosions on tugs at the Port of Gladstone.

But according to Smit Lamnalco, the assertion of an explosion is "sensationalist and misleading".

The company said there had been three occasions of major damage to engines in the Gladstone fleet since early 2018, which it attributed to piston seizure and con rod failure resulting in damage to the housing.

"A comprehensive risk assessment is in place for the continued operation of these engines while the failure investigation is under way," it said in a statement.

"We are aware of at least two other failures of identical engines within the Australian towage industry."

The union said it held a protest in Gladstone yesterday and claimed the damage caused by each explosion "blew the con rod out of the engine, caused oil spills in the engine room and set off fire alarms".

It claimed the resulting damage had left the tug boats out of service for months at a time.

Smit Lamnalco reported no sign of employees or union officials present at a protest planned at its Gladstone office, and said it had received multiple aggressive emails from MUA officials.

MUA Queensland Branch deputy secretary Jason Miners claimed the company, Smit Lamnalco, was imposing unsafe workloads on employees, including shifts that required being on call for 24 hours straight.

"Smit Lamnalco is putting safety at risk with their ­reckless attempts to cut wages and conditions at the port, including by outsourcing maintenance work on the tug engines to a contractor without any marine qualifications," he said.

The company refuted this, saying maintenance is conducted by a tug crew and assisted by numerous experienced, licensed and approved contractors.

It said it had never ­threatened to "halve" employees' pay, and the 24-hour secondary shifts were in place when it took over the contract in 2010.