Covid-19: Union calls for mandatory testing after container ship crew members test positive

The New Zealand Merchant Service Guild is calling for mandatory testing for all crews of incoming boats and ships, to protect port workers.

It comes after nine crew members aboard the container ship Mattina, currently in quarantine at Bluff, tested positive for Covid-19.

The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel entered port on Sunday evening and all 21 crew members were tested on Monday morning after two crew members initially reported having symptoms.

Health officials have determined that the only member of the local port who had contact with the ship’s crew was the South Port pilot, who boarded the ship as it entered the port.

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Pilots, who are represented by the NZ Merchant Service Guild, are required to board vessels of this size when docking. The pilot was wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and was fully vaccinated.

Vice President Captain Iain MacLeod said the crew aboard the Mattina likely would not have been tested if the crew members had not reported any symptoms.

It would have endangered port workers, from port pilots to longshoremen unloading the ship, he said.

MacLeod himself was in isolation after the owners of the last ship he captained did not allow health officials to test the crew when he docked in New Zealand.

Shipping companies were concerned about the perceived business risk of testing crews, as positive results would lead to lengthy red tape and the vessel would be quarantined, slowing down the supply chain, he said.

Starboard maritime intelligence

Tracking data from Starboard Maritime Intelligence shows how the Mattina’s Covid-19 risk level changed on her journey to New Zealand, via Singapore.

“We pushed for it from this thing [Covid-19] started.”

MacLeod had been in contact with the port pilot who was able to plan his work on the ship, thanks to the crew reporting symptoms before they arrived.

The pilot worked from the edge of the deck, did not enter the boat and communicated with the crew by radio, he said.

Western Australian Prime Minister Mark McGowan told a press conference on Tuesday that the ship docked at Fremantle near Perth between July 10 and July 12. He said the ship originally sailed from Jakarta, Indonesia.

McGowan said staff who interacted with the vessel did so while wearing appropriate PPE.

“I would like to stress that it is standard operating procedure to deal with every vessel that visits [Western Australia] as if he was carrying the virus. That is, all workers who come into contact with a vessel must wear appropriate PPE – masks and gloves – and take all necessary precautions. “

He said the state’s public health chief considered any risk associated with the ship to be low. As a precaution, anyone who may have come into contact with her while at the port of Fremantle has been contacted and questioned by public health officials to arrange for testing and quarantine. This was done out of “an excess of caution,” McGowan said.

As captain, MacLeod said a ship was the last place in the world you wanted a positive Covid-19 case, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the remaining crew members caught the virus as well.

“Once you’re on the ship, you can’t go anywhere. It is inevitable.

“At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the shipping company to look after its staff,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health confirmed that the tests only take place when there is a change of crew, if the crew wants to get off the ship or if the ship needs help – “like in the case of Mattina “.

The three crew members with whom the pilot may have been in contact gave negative results and he was therefore not required to self-isolate.

The 21 crew members would remain on the ship while the ministry and the Southern District Health Board determine next steps, the spokesperson said, adding that eight of the nine positive crew members were symptomatic.

The council and its public health unit would monitor crew members over the phone, and plans were in place if they needed advanced medical attention.

The container ship Mattina quarantined in Bluff is one of three ships to have recently arrived in New Zealand with crew members infected with Covid.  The other two were fishing boats.

Kavinda Herath / Tips

The container ship Mattina quarantined in Bluff is one of three ships to have recently arrived in New Zealand with crew members infected with Covid. The other two were fishing boats.

Genome sequencing was underway to determine which variant of Covid-19 the crew picked up.

The Mattina remains in quarantine in a secure area of ​​the port, inaccessible to the public and fenced.

South Port acting general manager Geoff Finnerty said workers were able to continue ground operations outside the exclusion zone with minimal impact on business.

The ship would remain in port until health officials released the crew from quarantine, he said, adding that the next container ship was due to arrive on the evening of July 31.

The Mattina is operated by MSC, a global container shipping company, and was carrying exchange containers, according to South Port’s shipping schedule.

A spokesperson for the company’s New Zealand office said MSC was unable to operate the vessel or share information about its crew until it received advice from the Department of Health .

The spokesperson declined to comment further.

The Southern District Health Board announced on Tuesday that 100,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been delivered to Southland and Otago, as vaccination teams prepared to step up injections in the coming weeks.

Vaccine Deployment Incident Controller Hamish Brown said the district’s 30 immunization clinics should grow to 120, with pharmacies and practices on board so no one is more than an hour from a site vaccination.