Second bulk carrier struck with virus off Australia’s Pilbara

Bulk carrier Vega Dream. Credit: Malte Schwarz

COVID-19 has hit a second bulk carrier in Port Hedland, Australia. A Filipino seafarer from the Panama-flagged Vega Dream was transferred to the Hedland Health Campus clinical care on 11 October after testing positive for the virus.

Six of the 19 crew on the vessel have also tested positive. They have been isolated on board the 91,468 gt vessel in separate quarters and are reportedly well to date.

However, it is questionable whether the vessel, with infected crew, will have a safe manning levels of 14 crew to sail to its next port of Qingdao, China, with its load of iron ore.

An Australian marine pilot and a surveyor who boarded the vessel are also in self-quarantine.

“Our thoughts are with the health of our crew members, their families, and friends, the medical professionals and caregivers. We will be informing updates on the situation,” said Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), the vessel’s shipowner, in a statement.

“We will continue to fully co-operate with all concerned parties and take all precautions to avoid the spread of the virus.”

The new outbreak comes as the Patrica Oldendorff bulk carrier left Port Hedland after 18 of its 20 crew contracted the virus late last month. Three seafarers have been transferred to a quarantine hotel in Perth and are undergoing medical care. The vessel was forced to wait for its crew to recover from the virus before it was safe to resume its voyage to Tanjung Bara, Indonesia.

This is the second outbreak involving crew joining vessels from Manila, with reports that Western Australia’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy was in talks in a bid to attempt to have ships source their labour elsewhere. The state government has also offered to work with Canberra to ask the Philippines to tighten controls around crew changes.

Pilbara Ports Authority is reportedly attempting to establish a crew change centre, where seafarers can fly in and out of Port Hedland international terminal, according to the International Maritime Organization protocol.

Meanwhile on Australia’s eastern seaboard, the Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier, Anacapa Light, sailed from Newcastle coal port on 11 October after a false alarm involving the virus last week. A 20-year-old Indian seafarer was transferred to John Hunter Hospital when testing positive, but was released after health authorities determined it was an old infection. All the other crew tested negative.