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Published: 14 Feb 2020
Darwin maritime workers fear they are being put at risk of exposure to the deadly coronavirus due to the imminent arrival of a container vessel that departed mainland China earlier this month, in clear breach of the Federal Government’s 14-day travel ban.
The Singapore-flagged Kota Nebula visited a series of ports in China in early February, including areas with confirmed coronavirus cases, before departing the port of Nansha on February 3.
While the Australian Government has imposed a ban on foreign nationals entering Australia “for 14 days from the time they have left or transited through mainland China”, the Kota Nebula has been granted permission to dock in Darwin today, just 11 days after its last potential coronavirus exposure.
The Maritime Union of Australia said Darwin maritime workers, including pilots, tugboat crews, linesmen, and other port workers would all have direct contact with the crew of the vessel, putting them at genuine risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
“The Australian Government has imposed strict travel restrictions that prevent air travel by anyone who has been in mainland China in the previous 14 days, yet this container vessel — which visited multiple mainland Chinese ports during this time — is being allowed to simply dock in Darwin,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.
“The reason for the 14 day travel ban is that the incubation period for the coronavirus is two weeks, so it is completely possible that crew members from this vessel may be infected but not yet have any symptoms.
“Local maritime workers, including those who board the vessel to pilot it into Darwin Port, along with those working to unload it, are all being put at unacceptable risk of exposure through the decision to allow this vessel to dock in breach of the travel ban.
“The broader community are also being put at risk by the failure to implement proper quarantine measures for commercial vessels, which provides a direct route by which this disease could enter Darwin.
“There have been numerous confirmed cases of coronavirus among seafarers departing China, which is why it is so important that this vessel not be permitted to dock today.”
Mr Crumlin said it was alarming that the Australian Government was still relying on merchant vessels self-declaring any biosecurity threats, including suspected coronavirus cases.
“The Australian Government sat on its hands for weeks following the outbreak, saying virtually nothing about one of the most vulnerable biosecurity areas: ports and shipping,” he said.
“Despite the Health Department finally putting out guidance, including additional measures for vessels that departed mainland China from February 1, these rules are not being enforced, with this vessel being allowed to dock within the 14 day exclusion period.
“What measures that are occurring appear to be driven by individual port management, rather than a coordinated national biosecurity response.
“The failure to implement one of the most important guidelines — a 14 day exclusion for people departing mainland China — is placing the local maritime and transport workforce at risk, and by extension the people of Darwin.
“Merchant vessels don’t have doctors on board, and we are not seeing health checks being undertaken by Australian authorities before they dock, meaning the identification of this major health threat is being left to untrained seafarers.
“The Australian Government needs to urgently rectify this situation, enforcing the requirement that any vessel that has departed China wait 14 days before docking in Australia, and conducting proper health checks on all crew before they make contact with Australian maritime workers.
“The Australian public deserve to know that biosecurity on our maritime borders is being exercised properly and transparently, providing the protection they need from this growing pandemic.”
Media contact: Tim Vollmer 0404 273 313