First suspected COVID-19 case in a South African port

Cape Town port, South Africa. Credit: Transnet National Port Authority

In the first suspected case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in a South African seaport, two vessels are being held at the Port of Cape Town after a crew member who had served both ships began exhibiting symptoms of the disease.

According to the Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA), the sick man and a fellow crew flew into the country from Istanbul, Turkey, on 9 March 2020. Both signed on to a general cargo vessel, ironically named Corona, which left the Cape Town port two days later, on 11 March.

On 13 March, the master contacted the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) and the Port Health unit of the National Department of Health, informing them that the crew member was ill. The master requested that the vessel return to Cape Town for evacuation.

Both crew were placed into isolation on board the vessel, although only one was symptomatic.

When the vessel reached Cape Town on 16 March, it waited off port limits while the MRCC, Port Health, and harbour master co-ordinated the evacuation process of both crew by an air force helicopter to a hospital.

Cruise liner AIDAmira is the second vessel being held at the port because six of its passengers were on the same flight as the Corona crew members. The vessel was on a coastal voyage between Namibia and South Africa, with a total of 486 crew and 1,240 passengers on board.

The ship was sailing back to Cape Town from Namibia, when Port Health Cape Town informed the TNPA about the link between the Corona crew and AIDAmira passengers.

AIDAmira’s master immediately quarantined the six passengers. The ship arrived outside of Port of Cape Town on 15 March, and was allowed to dock a day later.

The six passengers have been evacuated, and taken to a hospital for testing and to a quarantined area arranged by Port Health officials. The rest of the passengers will remain quarantined on board until test results for the six are known, a decision on what happens next will be made based on the results.