THREE container ships that departed foreign ports in recent days are due to dock in Darwin this week, which has again raised the ire of the union which insists that ship crews must undertake a 14-day coronavirus quarantine period.

Singapore-flagged KOTA HARUM, which departed Hong Kong on 25 March, will dock in Darwin on 3 April after eight days at sea. The Cyprus-flagged ANTUNG is also due to arrive on 3 April after visiting Indonesia on 28 March and East Timor on 1 April. The Liberia-flagged ANL DILI TRADER, which departed Singapore on 25 March 25, is due to dock on 4 April.

The Maritime Union of Australia is concerned about a COVID-19 outbreak on the waterfront, which would affect supply chains and could potentially impact remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

This comes after the arrival of the Chinese container vessel XIN DA LIAN in Melbourne, which resulted in wharfies being stood down after refusing to unload that ship.

However, the Australian Border Force and the Department of Health have overnight re-emphasised the measures in place to protect Australian maritime borders from the risk of coronavirus imported from international commercial crew. 

The ABF advice reconfirms that commercial marine vessels can be stevedored inside 14 days provided crew maintains self-isolation in accordance with their guidelines.

DP World Australia’s chief operating officer Andrew Adam welcomed the clear advice from both government agencies.

He said, “The ABF are clear that commercial marine vessels can be worked in Melbourne inside 14 days from the last international port.

“While international maritime crew are not subject to quarantine, they must meet strict self-isolation guidelines if less than 14 days have passed from the last international port.”

Mr Adam called on the MUA to follow the advice of government departments.

“We already know that a failure to enforce biosecurity measures on cruise ships has led to the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in Australia, causing several deaths and hundreds of illnesses,” MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said.

“The arrival of these three vessels — in the most extreme case less than two days after being in a foreign port — threatens to repeat that debacle by exposing local workers, and through them the broader community, to another outbreak.”

Shipping Australia has reiterated its condemnation of the MUA’s position on the issue.

“They are abusing the COVID-19 crisis for their own aggrandizement,” CEO of Shipping Australia Rod Nairn said. “But it must stop.”

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Meanwhile, the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers has reported that a crew of six who brought the tug SL Cook from Townsville via Bundaberg to Sydney, may have to turn around and go home.

The tug departed Townsville on Friday and then called in at Bundaberg on Sunday before continuing its voyage to arrive in Sydney on the night of 1 April.

“The original plan was for the whole crew to fly back to Queensland yesterday or today,” Martin Byrne, federal president of AIMPE, said on Thursday.

It’s unclear whether NSW regulations will be enforced to put the whole crew into a quarantine hotel in Sydney for 14 days.

If that is the case, the crew will probably be required to self-isolate for a further 14 days when they return home to Queensland.

“So instead of a quick job of five or six days these six tug crew (masters, engineers and deckhands) are now looking at spending the rest of April unable to do very much at all,” Mr Byrne said..

“This example is likely to mean that interstate movements of tug boats around Australia will be suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 related restrictions.

“Tug operators are unlikely to want to go through this drama to re-position a tug.”

This will mean that tug operators will need to access local drydocking facilities rather than go interstate for dockings.

“Interstate tug movements do not happen every day but they are not uncommon,” Mr Byrne said.

There are other vessel types that work in ports and are re-located from time to time too – including for instance bunker barges and ferries.

“All are one way trips and will be caught up like the SL Cook. This is an unco-ordinated response which is having unintended consequences,” Mr Byrne said.

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