Friday, April 23, 2021

Union Once Again Presses the Case to Close Biosecurity Loophole to Prevent Covid Spread

Politicians Asked to Take Sensible Steps to Mitigate Risk to Maritime Community
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), probably not the most favoured group amongst the country's politicians, is clearly running out of patience with the government over its inaction when it comes to dealing with the Covid pandemic in maritime matters.

The MUA, and its oft acerbic National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has the habit of ruffling officials feathers whenever he sees fit, but Australia has made an excellent job of shielding itself from a major outbreak and the MUA has identified what it believes to be a hole in the defences.

Last week we saw the union’s points published, yet again this week details of another case has arisen which prompted Mr Crumlin to write to all members of the National Cabinet, including Federal and NSW Health Ministers, warning of the significant public health threat and outlining a proposal for immediate reforms to address the risk.

The Inge Kosan arrived in Sydney on March 31, before departing for Vanuatu the following day. Covid testing was later undertaken following the death of a crew member from the Philippines, finding 12 of the 13 crew members had been infected with the virus. NSW Health has now undertaken testing of the Australian workers who had direct contact with the vessel, including two pilots who boarded the vessel to bring it in and out of port, along with 18 other workers who were in the Bulk Liquids Berth at the time.

The MUA emphasises its repeated warnings that the current biosecurity system, which relies on a ship self-declaring illness on board before Covid testing is undertaken, is fundamentally flawed and made four recommendations which it says should be adopted immediately:

  • the introduction of rapid Covid testing of all international seafarers at arrival berths
  • immediate isolation and testing of stevedoring and maritime workforces at relevant berths following positive Covid tests among arriving seafarers
  • provision of health support for the crew, including treatment and efforts to prevent further spread of the virus on the vessel
  • declaring Australian maritime workers ‘key workers’ and adding them to the essential worker rollout of voluntary vaccinations

Mr Crumlin said the case of the Inge Kosan, operated by Danish group J. Lauritzen A/S, had exposed the seriously flawed Covid biosecurity measures in place at Australian ports, and the need for an urgent, nationally-consistent testing regime for arriving crews, adding:

“The current arrangement, where Covid testing only takes place if a ship self-declares symptoms, is completely flawed and needs to be urgently overhauled. Had testing taken place when the Inge Kosan berthed, the Covid cases on board would have been immediately identified, the seafarers would have received medical care, potentially saving a man’s life, and the Australian workers would have been immediately isolated and tested.

“Instead, we’ve seen an outbreak spread throughout this ship, one seafarer die, and a three week period where Covid could have been spreading into the Australian community. Australian port workers, who interact with international ships every day, are currently functioning as the only barrier between Covid and the Australian community.

“Currently, even access to vaccines varies between states, with maritime workers in some parts of the country given priority access while others continue to miss out. These failings not only have serious implications for public health, they threaten Australia’s maritime trade and broader economic security.

”The best way to reduce the risk of community infection is through early detection and intervention, allowing prompt and accurate contact tracing and immediate isolation of anyone suspected of coming into contact with an affected vessel. Federal, State and Territory Governments need to urgently fix this broken system before lives are lost.”