Thursday, April 2, 2020

Maritime Unions Declare Container Ship Arrivals Break Quarantine Regulations

Wharfies Refuse to Work if Crews Do Not Self Isolate
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – Maritime union representatives are up in arms at what they claim are blatant breaches of the anti-virus precautions guidelines prescribed by the Federal government. The argument arises as three more container ships arriving from Asian ports are scheduled to discharge with no quarantine measures in force.

The three vessels are due to dock in Darwin this week, despite failing to undertake the 14 day coronavirus quarantine period, and posing a clear health risk to workers and the community according to the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

Singapore-flagged Kota Haru, which departed Hong Kong on March 25, will dock in Darwin tomorrow morning (April 3) after just eight days at sea. The Cyprus-flagged Antung is also due to arrive on Friday after visiting Indonesia on March 28 and East Timor on April 1. The Liberia-flagged Anl Dili Trader, which departed Singapore on March 25, is due to dock on Saturday.

These arrivals, in the most extreme case just two days after departing a foreign port, follow the arrival of the Chinese container vessel Xin Da Lianin Melbourne. Wharfies were stood down after refusing to unload that ship because it had failed to complete a 14-day quarantine period after leaving Taiwan on March 19.

The MUA says commercial vessels continue to dock in Australian ports without crew members undertaking 14 days isolation, as is required by all other travellers, despite clear Covid-19 guidelines to the maritime industry from the Health Department that all vessels should undertake it if arriving from another country. Whilst understanding the crucial role played by its members in maintaining supply chains the MUA says it will not stand by while foreign vessels were allowed to breach essential measures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 in the community. National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said:

“We already know that a failure to enforce biosecurity measures on cruise ships has led to the largest cluster of Covid-19 cases in Australia, causing several deaths and hundreds of illnesses. The arrival of these three vessels, in the most extreme case less than two days after being in a foreign port threatens to repeat that debacle by exposing local workers, and through them the broader community, to another outbreak.

“It is outrageous that at a time when people are being told to stay in their homes, to not even take their kids to the park that the Australian Government is continuing to allow foreign vessels to unload in our ports without undertaking a 14 day quarantine period. Wharfies are simply demanding that the Health Department’s guidelines be enforced to prevent the spread of coronavirus on the waterfront, which means ensuring all vessels undertake a 14 day isolation period after leaving their last foreign port before docking in Australia.

“If there is a Covid-19 outbreak on the waterfront, it could have devastating impacts, not only to the health of workers, but on the supply chains that provide 98% of Australia’s imports, including medical supplies, food, and household goods. That is why the union developed a maritime industry framework based on expert health advice and international best practice, but some stevedores are refusing to meet or implement those measures, instead resorting to intimidation and threats to force unsafe practices on workers.”

MUA Northern Territory Deputy Branch Secretary, and National Indigenous Officer, Thomas Mayor raised the spectre of how serious an outbreak of coronavirus might prove if it enters the region which houses a large population of indigenous people, saying:

“Remote Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable, given the large numbers of people with chronic health conditions, which is why the Northern Territory cannot relax strict measures to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 at the port. The arrival of these three vessels at Darwin Port, with no quarantine measures, threatens to spread this deadly virus into our community.

“The Australian and Territory Governments should be doing everything possible to prevent the foreseeable risk of coronavirus arriving on commercial vessels, including through the enforcement of strict 14-day quarantine periods, and proactive testing of crew members on international vessels before work commences on them. This should be coupled with measures on the wharves that protect local workers, including physical distancing measures, strong hygiene, cleaning, and appropriate personal protective equipment.”

The guidelines on arriving vessels which have been less than 14 days at sea actually state that international maritime crew are exempt from the mandatory isolation requirement and are instead required to self-isolate at their accommodation, or on the vessel. Self-isolation means that when not in transit they should remain at their accommodation and not attend public places or have visitors.

The isolation period is for 14 days since anyone on the vessel was last in an international port. Time at sea counts towards the 14 days of self-isolation if no illness has been reported on-board. Crew signing off commercial vessels that have spent greater than 14 days at sea, with no known illness on-board, do not need to self-isolate on arrival.

Disembarking crew who are required to self-isolate in order to fly or take public transport home within Australia should firstly follow any instruction given to them by biosecurity officers, state or territory health authorities, or Australian Border Force officers, at the time of disembarkation. Crew should also check any domestic isolation requirements and exemptions with the relevant State or Territory Health Authority if transiting domestically.

Providing no alternate advice has been given, crew who are not ill can travel domestically to reach their accommodation within Australia to complete their self-isolation period. For isolation period concessions and precautions for maritime crew, they are advised to refer to advice from the Australian Border Force.

Photo: Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to incoming infections. Image courtesy of One Disease.