Twenty of the 48 crew on board the Al Kuwait livestock carrier in Fremantle, Australia, have now tested positive for COVID-19, with one transferred to a hospital after his condition became serious.
Local inspector for the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Keith McCorriston told SAS he alerted state and federal authorities after a tip off that crew on board reported fevers and COVID-19 symptoms when the vessel docked in Fremantle on 22 May.
“After a number of phone calls, the ship was in lockdown,” he said.
The ITF arranged for all crew to be tested. All seafarers, except for a skeleton crew for safe manning, were taken off the ship and put in isolation in Perth hotels.
“The crew were honestly concerned about being exposed to the virus,” said McCorriston. “They were scared. Ten had symptoms before the ship berthed. They wanted medical attention and worried about notifying their families. They were terrified about talking to government officials.”
McCorriston said the ship had a mixed crew of Croatian, Filipino, and Indian seafarers, with one Australian vet and one Australian stockman on board.
The ITF asserted that all crew had to be tested and an investigation is to be held into why communications failed between the state and federal authorities, leaving the port unaware a COVID-19 cluster was on board the vessel.
Unions are in consultation with the state authorities with talks continuing about allowing a crew change before the vessel sails.
All 56,000 sheep bound for the Middle East on board Al Kuwait will now be slaughtered in Australia after the federal government refused to exempt the vessel from a livestock export ban.
Live exports from Australia were subject to an inquiry after footage exposing animals died of heat exhaustion on board Awassi Express was leaked to the press in 2017.
Live exports are now banned during the northern summer. An Australian vet and stockman are required on board during any live shipments in the cooler months.
Meanwhile, Al Kuwait is docked in Fremantle until 13 June.