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Coronavirus outbreak on Patricia Oldendorff off Port Hedland sparks fears over cargo ship rules

Coronavirus outbreak on Patricia Oldendorff off Port Hedland sparks fears over cargo ship rules
Stricter rules around international ship crews entering Australian waters are needed following the serious outbreak on board the Patricia Oldendorff manganese carrier off the Pilbara coast, the WA Government says.

A total of 17 out of 21 crew members from the Patricia Oldendorff have tested positive for COVID-19, with nine of them remaining on the vessel and the other 12 in a hastily assembled hotel quarantine arrangement in Port Hedland.

The eight cases of the virus confirmed from the ship yesterday meant WA had more new COVID-19 cases on the day than Victoria, the first day any state had reached that unwanted milestone in nearly four months.

Officials said none of those with the virus were seriously unwell and several were asymptomatic.

They have also repeatedly insisted there was no threat to the wider community, saying the outbreak had been contained to the ship and hotel quarantine.

But Health Minister Roger Cook said the incident raised serious concerns about the handling of ship crews entering Australia, calling for greater oversight.

“We need to continue to work with the shipping agencies, with other governments and with the Commonwealth to ensure these international protocols are a bit tighter,” he told ABC Radio Perth.

“I am worried that these crew [members] got on the vessel from the Philippines and one or more were unwell.”
Maritime industry defends ‘robust’ controls

But the Government’s call for tighter controls comes amid pleas from the industry for more help to assist seafarers who have been stuck on vessels for months on end because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Industry body Maritime Industry Australia said the sector was already going to significant lengths to prevent outbreaks on freight ships.

“There are very very strict controls in place and the COVID management plans vessels have in place [are] incredibly robust,” the group’s chief executive Teresa Lloyd said.

“We are seeing very few cases on board vessels.”

Ms Lloyd said the industry was working to limit “gaps in the system” when crew changes took place, with protocols already including 14-day quarantine before departure and two rounds of testing.

The Patricia Oldendorff outbreak is not the first of its kind in WA, with the spread of coronavirus on the Al Kuwait live export vessel eventually leading to more than 20 confirmed cases.

The majority of those crew members were evacuated from the vessel and taken into quarantine in Perth.
Unclear when Patricia Oldendorff will sail

The Government is yet to decide what will happen to the Patricia Oldendorff, with logistical challenges thwarting plans to bring in a new crew.

The vessel needs at least nine crew members just to sit at anchor and requires 13 to sail, but only five replacement crew members have been found so far.

Even if a full crew is found, the ship would need to undergo a deep clean before they could board.

“My preference would be that we could switch the crew out, but there are limitations,” Mr Cook said.

“This is a really tricky situation.”

Mr Cook said the freighter had been moved one nautical mile closer to shore to be within mobile phone reception, with health staff boarding daily to conduct a physical assessment of the remaining crew.

If a new crew cannot be found, officials have indicated they could wait until enough of the infected personnel recover for the ship to set sail again.
Source: ABC

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