All Russian ships face quarantine in South Korea

Ice Crystal. Credit: HASENPUSCH DIETMAR

South Korea’s Ministry of Health has ordered that all Russian ships calling at the country’s ports are to be quarantined for 14 days.

The order came on 24 June, after 17 crew members from two Russian reefer ships tested positive for COVID-19 when the ships arrived in Busan.

In the first incident, 16 of 21 crew members of Russian reefer ship Ice Stream tested positive for COVID-19, after the vessel docked next to another reefer ship, Ice Crystal, upon arriving in Busan on 21 June. At least 100 port workers came into contact with the crew, and these employees have had to be quarantined. So far, none of the port workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

The captain of Ice Stream, which carried frozen seafood, has been accused of failing to declare that some of the crew members were unwell.

On 23 June, a crew member on Ice Crystal, which had arrived in Busan on 17 June, tested positive for COVID-19. All the infected crew members have been sent to hospitals in Busan for treatment. Both Ice Stream and Ice Crystal are operated by Reftransflot.

Investigations showed that other breaches occurred. Foreign crew members on ships arriving in South Korea are not allowed to disembark and enter the port without permission. In this case, the infected Ice Stream crew had disembarked and mingled with the crew on Ice Crystal.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, who is spearheading the government’s COVID-19 response, said that the decision to quarantine Russian ships was similar to a post-mortem, and there should be no recurrences.

The decision effectively adds Russia to South Korea’s list of countries deemed as high-risk COVID-19 areas, alongside China, Italy, and Iran.

Vice-health minister Kim Gang-lip said that foreign ships that fail to report their crew’s COVID-19 symptoms to quarantine officials prior to docking at Busan will be fined up to KRW5 million (USD4,200).

He also warned that the government will penalise shipowners if their crew spread the virus to someone else within South Korea after docking.