A cargo ship made its way down the Queensland coast and through the Great Barrier Reef without its crew knowing how to use the bulk carrier's electronic navigation equipment.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority detained the Panama-flagged bulk carrier, the African Alke, in Brisbane on Thursday.
An AMSA spokesman said a port state control inspection found the 177-metre ship's bridge watch-keeping officers were unable to show they could operate the vessel's Electronic Chart Display and Information System.
That system helps ships navigate Australia's defined coastal routes, including through the Great Barrier Reef.
"The vessel was detained because the safety management system had not identified a lack of on board familiarisation training in the use of ECDIS," the AMSA spokesman said.
"The ship's operators have flown an ECDIS trainer in from Singapore to train the crew.
"AMSA will release the ship from detention once it is satisfied the crew have been trained to an appropriate standard and can demonstrate the expected level of competency."
The African Alke remained berthed at Fisherman Islands on Friday morning.
A spokesman for the ship's lessee, MUR Shipping, said the company chartered the ship from Fairwind Panama. He said the ship was managed by Japan-based B&S Enterprises, which was ultimately responsible for the training of the crew.
Maritime Union of Australia Queensland branch secretary Bob Carnegie said the African Alke went through the Great Barrier Reef during its journey from Portland to Brisbane, via Mackay. "It's just another example of circumventing Australian laws and doing whatever they want," he said. "They'll see the Great Barrier Reef destroyed and they'll see massive environmental damage done to this country as long as they can save 30¢ a tonne by not employing Australian workers and Australian seafarers when they should be employed.
"It's a national disgrace and no one cares about Australian seafarers because we spend our lives on the world's oceans and away from normal society."
Mr Carnegie said people's lives were being put at risk. "It's not just the incompetent officers and seafarers on flag of convenience vessels, but also the people who have to go out in all sorts of weather and rescue them," he said.
Mr Carnegie said legislation similar to the United States' so-called Jones Act, which regulated maritime commerce between US ports and in US waters, should be introduced in Australia.
"That would create great employment opportunities for tens of thousands of Australians and create environmental certainty about vessels being utilised around the Great Barrier Reef and other environmentally fragile places," he said.
Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus, who was pushing for such legislation in Australia, said the African Alke incident was a "real worry".
"We're still cleaning up the mess from the last one that ran up against the reef," he said. Senator Lazarus said the Australian government had put "our coast, our cargo and our country" at risk by allowing foreign crews to work in its territorial waters. "The ship that has been impounded is the tip of the iceberg and unless new laws are put in place to protect our waters and our coast we are facing very the possibility of another environmental catastrophe in our waters and further harm to the reef," he said.
NOTE: This story has been updated to include comment from MUR Shipping. It has also been amended to reflect the ship's journey started in Portland in the United States and not Malaysia, on the advice of the MUR Shipping spokesman.