Covid-19 cases on board Viking Bay: Agent says NZ officials ‘jumped gun’

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Port of Taranaki 080721
Port of Taranaki ... the ship Viking Bay with two covid-19 cases among crew was barred last night from returning to port because staff would be "put at risk". Image: Taranaki Regional Council

RNZ News

The agent for a ship carrying two covid-19-infected fishermen says New Zealand officials jumped the gun in announcing all its crew would be taken into managed isolation.

The mariners were in a group of nine sailors who arrived in Auckland on Monday without having to quarantine and were immediately driven to New Plymouth to board their deep sea fishing vessel.

Yesterday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the Viking Bay was returning to New Plymouth where all 15 crew would be taken into managed isolation.

However, last night that was rejected by the port, which said it would put staff at risk.

As of last night, the Ministry of Health said it was now unclear where the ship would dock. The ministry declined to be interviewed today on RNZ Morning Report.

The vessel’s agent when it was at Taranaki, Bill Preston, told Morning Report the ship appeared to be in international waters.

Preston said there had been a lack of communication.

‘Jumping the gun’
“Announcements have been made without collaboration with the port or anybody. So I think everybody is jumping the gun a bit.”

He said the first he had heard of the situation was when the port’s chief executive called him to confirm the news, after Dr Bloomfield’s announcement in the weekly vaccine update yesterday.

“I said [to the port’s chief executive], ‘no, there’s been no decision around what the vessel is going to do at this stage’.”

Dr Bloomfield’s announcement was also the first time that the port had heard of the news too, Preston said.

Since then, he said he had seen communication with the ministry overnight, about making a plan of what the ship would do.

Maritime Union national secretary Craig Harrison said the port should reverse that decision on humanitarian grounds.

“Taranaki could let the vessel pull on site and tie up and not let anyone off but get them close to medical health in case something happens.”

Port’s ban ‘harsh’
Harrison said the port’s decision was “harsh”.

“We really feel for the crew now … this crew has got nowhere to go and you can guarantee that any foreign port that’s close to us now won’t let them in their waters… they won’t want to touch them,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I think New Zealand will have to do something about it.”

He said preventing the virus spreading to other crew on the cramped vessel would be difficult, with closed ventilation on the ship and only one galley.

“I feel really sorry for the crew that are out there, because you can imagine that what’s going through their minds is sooner or later are they going to get covid-19. It’s a terrible situation to be in and I think time is of the essence.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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