Seafarer hospitalised in Australia with COVID-19

Bulk carrier Hokkaido. Credit: Kevin Finnigan/Tropic Maritime Photos

After a week at anchor and quarantine, bulk carrier Hokkaido offloaded its cargo of fertiliser at the port of Brisbane, Australia, on 23 July.

All 19 crew on board were tested twice for COVID-19 before the vessel was allowed to approach the port. One seafarer who tested positive was hospitalised and the ship disinfected.

“Maritime Safety Queensland’s handling [of the potential outbreak] should serve as an example to other states and countries,” Dean Summers, co-ordinator of International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Australia, told SAS.

“The ITF and union are very happy with our involvement and the management of this case,” he said. Summers said he liaised with Queensland authorities after the ship’s captain raised concerns with him on 16 July.

Before arriving in Australia from the Philippines, the captain reported a crew member was suffering flu-like symptoms and a fever. This is despite all crew joining the vessel in Manila on 4 July initially testing negative for the virus.

Once alerted to a potential COVID-19 outbreak on board, Brisbane’s Regional Harbour Master cancelled the ship’s arrival and directed the vessel to the Point Cartwright anchorage. The Mission to Seafarers Brisbane organised care packages for crew quarantined offshore.

Crew health and welfare were prioritised, Summers reported. Safeguarding port workers from infection was the next priority. When Queensland Health tested the ship’s crew on 17 July, the seafarer who first reported ill tested negative. However, a crewmate with no symptoms tested positive.

Unlike the Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle, the Filipino crew was isolated from all other crew on board the ship, alone in his own cabin with his own bathroom. Queensland Police Service transported him to shore on 19 July, where an ambulance was waiting to take him to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital for further testing, observation, and isolation.

The man, in his 20s, is reportedly still asymptomatic and awaiting advice on when he is able to rejoin the ship.

All areas where he had contact on the vessel, including the bridge, decks, stairs, and accommodation quarters were disinfected in line with the ship’s COVID-19 management plan. Pilots and port workers will wear personal protective equipment and crew will remain on the vessel while it is in port.

A second round of crew swab and blood testing subsequently detected another seafarer who had COVID-19 anti-bodies. However, he was no longer infectious and remains on the ship.

Crew will undergo a third round of testing at anchorage after cargo discharge and before Hokkaido sails to its next port of call, Newcastle, Australia.