THE Tacoma Trader has been at port in Darwin for nearly a week after the stevedores working it were sent to mandatory quarantine for 13 days after they were observed working the ship without PPE.
Now, the Maritime Union said NT Health has refused to undertake COVID testing of crew members onboard the vessel, despite the seafarers requesting the tests through the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
The MUA said the operator of the Tacoma Trader, through its Australian agent, has also written to health authorities formally requesting that COVID tests be provided for their employees.
A spokesperson for NT Health said all commercial vessels entering the territory from international waters are processed by the ABF, DAWR and are subject to the NT’s border arrival conditions including quarantine.
“Crew members who remain on board the vessel in port are not required to be tested. If a person displays COVID-19 symptoms they can contact the COVID-19 hotline or a medical practitioner to determine whether to be tested or assessed for COVID-19 infection,” the NT Health spokesperson said.
“NT authorities undertook all appropriate processes and completed health screening of all crew members on board the vessel, which includes temperature checks and health and safety questions.”
MUA assistant national secretary Adrian Evans said, “NT Health thinks the COVID risk posed by the Tacoma Trader is so severe that 13 Darwin wharfies have to be locked up in Howard Springs for a fortnight, yet they are refusing to allow COVID testing of the crew which would confirm whether there is any actual threat”.
“It is now 12 days since the Tacoma Trader left its last port of Singapore, so any active cases — including those that may be asymptomatic — would show up if testing was conducted today,” Mr Evans said.
Mr Evans said the vessel had now been stuck at the Port of Darwin for nearly a week, unable to be unloaded and loaded, because of the actions of NT Health, creating uncertainty around all other international vessels due to arrive at the port.
“On Friday, when our members were collected by NT Police, they were told the COVID breach was not their fault but was the result of the Tacoma Trader failing to properly notify its arrival to the Department of Health through the emergency operations centre,” he said.
“By Saturday, NT Health was claiming the issue related to PPE, despite the wharfies wearing the exact same PPE and following the same COVID safety plans that have been in place for every vessel arrival for more than 14 months,” Mr Evans said.
“This whole debacle has caused the Port of Darwin to grind to a halt, it’s left the entire industry confused about how we safely proceed going forward, and it’s left 13 people locked up in quarantine without any clear answers about why they are there.”
The NT Health spokesperson said ABF personnel witnessed the port workers not wearing full PPE upon entering the vessel and reported this to health authorities and police.
“While no crew on board the vessel were reported as displaying any symptoms of COVID-19, asymptomatic transmission can occur on such vessels and so there is a risk to port workers, unless they are adequately protected,” the spokesperson said.
“Port workers are therefore required to wear full PPE upon entering the vessel because COVID-19 is able to survive for many hours on surfaces. Although workers did not come into direct contact with any crew members, they did come into contact with surfaces that may be contaminated. Transmission of COVID-19 from objects and surfaces is known to occur.”
The NT Health spokesperson said failure to wear full PPE puts port workers at risk as well as that of their families and the broader Northern Territory community.
“The chief health officer directed 13 port workers into 14 days mandatory supervised quarantine as a result of PPE breaches as they had boarded an international vessel where crew members were undertaking quarantine arrangements,” the spokesperson said.
“Adherence to infection prevention and control measures, including the wearing of full PPE, is the most reliable method of protecting the workers and the community. Negative tests for COVID-19 prior to arrival of international maritime crew, which are not conducted under the auspices of NT public health authorities, cannot be relied upon to provide assurance that there is no COVID-19 present on board.
“NT Health is working in collaboration with the Maritime Union Australia to provide advice on COVID-19 and the hierarchy of infection control strategies and risk management protocols including PPE.”