Unemployed Australian seafarers offered to crew of Patricia Oldendorff

Bulk carrier Patricia Oldendorff stuck off the coast of Western Australia with COVID-19-positive crew on board. Credit: FOTOFLITE

Australian seafarers could relieve the COVID-19 positive crew on board the bulk carrier Patricia Oldendorff at anchor off Port Hedland, the world’s largest iron ore export port in Australia.

The offer was made by the local union to the state government on 30 September, as nine Filipino crew remain on the vessel as essential manning. This is despite 17 of the 21 crew testing positive for COVID-19, including seven of those remaining on board the vessel. All other crew have been brought ashore into a hotel for quarantine. None of them requires hospitalisation.

“There’s an easy fix that will protect the people of Western Australia, the economy, and the crew of Patricia Oldendorff,” said Christy Cain, secretary of the west coast branch of the Maritime Union of Australia. “Western Australia currently has 100 unemployed seafarers available for immediate deployment,” Cain said in a statement on 30 September. “The simple solution is to move the infected crew into quarantine, provide them with necessary medical care, carry out a full clean, and crew the vessel with local seafarers so we can immediately continue the export of Western Australia’s resources.”

The union has called for the infected crew to be brought ashore and provided medical treatment. “The wellbeing of seafarers is just as important as the people of Port Hedland,” said Cain. “Get them home safely. We have a moral responsibility to protect those seafarers.”

The 63,993-tonne Liberian-flagged Patricia Oldendorff arrived in Australian waters last week when the master reported two of the crew were unwell.

Australian authorities tested the crew on board and four of them tested positive for the virus. All but essential crew were transferred to hotel quarantine. They remain asymptomatic or suffering only mild symptoms of the virus. State health authorities on 1 October told SAS that two seafarers have since fully recovered.

“Two of the crew in hotel quarantine at the Hedland Hotel have now been cleared of COVID-19,” a spokesperson said.

Oldendorff Australia-based director Ben Harper said he had not heard of the union’s offer to crew the vessel and referred SAS queries to the company’s Hamburg officer.

A spokesperson for the company declined to comment, other than to provide the media statement posted on 28 September, thanking the Australian authorities for managing the situation with utmost professionalism.

“Every effort is being made to contain and improve the situation as quickly as possible,” said the company statement. “We know that this is also a difficult time for the families of the crew members; they have been informed and are being updated on the situation daily.”

Oldendorff reported the crew change in the Philippines on 5 September was in compliance with the Department of Transportation in the Protocol for Crew Change and Repatriation.