CONCERNS about coronavirus and gaps in biosecurity processes were raised back in January it can be revealed.

The issue hit the headlines when travellers from the cruise ship Ruby Princess were allowed to disembark in Sydney despite cases of coronavirus on board the ship subsequently being discovered.

This led to confusion and anger over whether NSW Health or the Australian Border Force were responsible for handling the situation.

On January 29 this year, Maritime Union Sydney branch assistant secretary Paul Garrett emailed Port Authority New South Wales raising his concerns.

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“It is also clear that there is a gaping hole in Australia’s biosecurity network due to the failure to implement adequate checks for coronavirus infections on vessels arriving at Australian ports,” Mr Garrett wrote.

“The requirement for merchant ships to ‘self-declare’ via the pre-arrival report is woefully inadequate when dealing with potential of biosecurity risks.

“Any accurate diagnosis of a virus like the coronavirus is left to medically untrained seafarers as well as ships’ masters who simply would not be familiar with the symptoms and diagnosis of coronavirus as part of their Medical First Aid on board Ship Certificate.”

It should be noted that the Ruby Princess saga did not involve PANSW.

Mr Garrett also noted the risk for people working on the waterfront who were interacting with ships crews several times a day.

“The biggest issue being that Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (now part of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) are not inspecting that vessel nor adequately inspecting other vessels to give a biosecurity clearance,” he said.

“Instead there is a reliance on the self-assessment in the pre-arrival report.”

Mr Garrett wrote it was appropriate for the Port Authority of NSW to compel ships arriving into Port Jackson and Port Botany to be assessed by quarantine authorities. “Until such time as this virus is controlled, it is appropriate that proactive steps are taken to provide support to those people who work aboard the ships whilst in the port,” he wrote.

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