Another virus outbreak uncovered on Russian vessel in Busan

Busan port. Credit: Jim Wilson

On 16 July, 17 of the 29 crew on Russian fishing trawler Regul had tested positive for COVID-19 in South Korea.

The ship had been quarantined outside Busan since late June, after three crew members tested positive on arrival at the port’s Gamcheon east quay; they were among seven crew members to apply for permission to disembark. Subsequent testing was then carried out on other crew members, resulting in the other 14 infected cases being uncovered. All the infected seafarers have been sent to Busan hospitals for treatment.

Owned and operated by Russian seafood processor Ostrovnoy Rybokombinat, Regul is an 825 gt deep-sea fishing vessel that has been regularly transporting seafood between Russia’s Vladivostok port and Busan, according to AISLive data.

The outbreak on Regul coincides with a positive COVID-19 result for two other Russian crew members from two other ships that also arrived in Busan the same week. The other ships are a Tuvalu-flagged fishing vessel that arrived in Gamcheon on 14 July to assist with repairs to another trawler, and a Russian reefer ship that arrived in the same pier the previous day.

Combined with the COVID-19 positive test results relating to 19 crew members from the Russian reefer ships Ice Stream and Ice Crystal, there are at least 38 imported COVID-19 infections from Russian seafarers.

South Korean government officials, concerned with the possibility of an imported Russian COVID-19 cluster from seafarers, have tightened epidemic control measures in South Korean ports, including quarantine all seafarers arriving from overseas.

All 19 crew members from Ice Stream and Ice Crystal have since recovered and were discharged from Busan Medical Centre on 10 July.

Yury Sukhorukov, president of the Seafarers’ Union of Russia, told SAS in a recent interview that the situation is caused by “unscrupulous shipowners” who are undermining the global crew change-over crisis, which is caused by worldwide travel restrictions amid the pandemic.

Sukhorukov said that the incidents of imported COVID-19 cases involving seafarers may result in authorities clamping down on seafarers’ travel restrictions, instead of carrying out much-needed easing measures.