Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said on 30 June 2020 that 11 crew members on board MSC Flavia had tested positive for COVID-19 after the 12,400 teu vessel approached Ningbo, China, on 26 June.
Tests were carried out as two of the crew members were running a temperature. The other nine seafarers were not unwell, but had frequent interactions with the two feverish crew members.
CHP said that nine of the infected seafarers had boarded MSC Flavia in Hong Kong on 24 June without being quarantined or tested as the territory is one of the few jurisdictions to permit crew change.
“All were declared to be asymptomatic on arrival in Hong Kong. Two of the nine cases were subsequently detected as having [a] fever on arrival in Ningbo while the other seven were asymptomatic,” said CHP in a statement.
CHP, part of Hong Kong’s Department of Health, said that six of these seafarers had flown into Hong Kong from Croatia, Greece, and Indonesia from 21 to 23 June. Prior to boarding MSC Flavia, the six crew members were placed in Dorsett Tsuen Wan Hotel by Mediterranean Shipping Company.
CHP said that it is communicating with local health authorities in Ningbo to learn more about the situation.
MSC Flavia transports cargoes from Asia to South America and AISLive data shows that the vessel is now moored off Meishan, one of Ningbo-Zhoushan’s subports.
When asked about the COVID-19 cluster on MSC Flavia, an MSC official told SAS, “We make sure we observe guidance and instructions from local authorities in relation to vessel and cargo operations wherever we operate.”
When the pandemic struck in January, MSC’s ship management companies implemented a number of essential steps, such as restricting the embarkation and disembarkation of personnel and provisions, introducing health screenings and protective equipment, and sharing advice.
Dr Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases of the Hong Kong Medical Association, told Hong Kong news site hk01 that the risk of disease transmission in ships is very high and the government should review the testing and quarantine exemption for seafarers.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread worldwide, there are estimates that at least 17 ships have been struck by the disease, with more than 1,600 seafarers infected. The worst outbreak was on the US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, where 1,156 sailors were infected, and one seafarer died.
Three of Maersk Line’s ships, Gjertrud Maersk, Lexa Maersk, and Maersk Idaho, were hit by COVID-19, with the latter vessel being the latest case. Maersk Idaho is now heading to Houston, more than a week after arriving in Newark, New Jersey, US, on 19 June, with 10 of its crew members testing positive for COVID-19. Maersk Line evacuated the remaining crew to a quarantine facility, cleaned, and disinfected the vessel before bringing new crew on board. Similar steps were taken for the other two ships.
Three of Princess Cruises’ ships, Diamond Princess, Ruby Princess, and Grand Princess, were also hit by COVID-19. All of the impacted vessels had been disinfected and thoroughly cleaned according to guidelines issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.