NEWCASTLE residents have reacted with a mix of anger and despair to news that chemical company Orica is storing 3000 tonnes of explosive mining materials offshore on a ship described by unions as being in ''incredibly bad'' condition.
''We don't think the company pays enough respect to the law or to the safety fears of residents,'' said the head of a local watchdog, John Hayes.
''Orica does not have a good record here. It says it wants to win the support and confidence of the local community. But this latest, toxic episode will do nothing to achieve that,'' he said.
Mr Hayes, leader of the Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield Group, also questioned the ability of the state and federal governments to police the company's behaviour satisfactorily.
''If the [NSW] Environment Protection Authority can't keep us safe, then who can?'' Mr Hayes demanded in an email sent immediately to the EPA's director Gary Davey.
His comments were echoed by residents such as Clasina Fisher, of Stockton.
''We feel very concerned, very vulnerable, about these dangerous explosives bobbing about in the sea just off Newcastle. Can you imagine what would happen if a fire started?'', she said.
The ammonium nitrate, which is used in blasting, was reportedly loaded on to the MCP Kopenhagen for storage seven days ago and taken out to sea.
The Maritime Union of Australia says the cargo vessel has a poor safety record, describing it as an ''incredibly bad ship, with a highly dangerous cargo that could potentially put the people of Newcastle at risk''.
The ship is reportedly Greek-owned, flies a Maltese flag of convenience and has a predominantly Filipino crew.
Orica has plans to store ammonium nitrate in the former Rosemount Winery in the Hunter Valley. It was also forced recently to reduce stocks at a yard, owned by a separate company, which was found not to have the necessary approvals.
Yesterday, the opposition spokesman on the environment, Luke Foley, accused the government of secretly permitting the ''trouble-plagued'' Orica to endanger the local community further.
''Orica should be under constant surveillance by the O'Farrell government and the Environmental Protection Authority following repeated chemical leaks from its Kooragang Island plant over the past year,'' he said.
However, a government spokesperson said yesterday the operation of the ship was ''a matter for Orica'', and was not subject to scrutiny by the environment department or authority.
A spokeswoman for Orica, Nicole Ekert, said the company had received permits from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority for a single voyage.