Australian maritime bodies have criticised the Western Australia state government over potential news laws which could lead ports to turn away ships with Covid-infected crews
Ports Australia has called for calm over the state government’s consideration of new shipping laws intended to minimise the spread of Covid-19, saying existing protocols are already preventing transmission from vessels to the mainland.
WA Premier Mark McGowan was reported to be assessing laws which would affect ships transiting from high-risk countries, such as Indonesia, or those with seafarers onboard who have tested positive for Covid-19.
The authority called on the Western Australian government and shipping charterers and lines to work together to avoid reaching a point where the government is forced to punish or even deny access to ships which have passed through ports in high-risk nations.
“Ports Australia is calling for greater collaboration between all levels of government across Australia as we cannot afford to have inconsistency across our borders regarding how we treat and manage the supply chain which keeps us alive,” said the authority.
It compared Western Australia’s supply chain management with that of Queensland’s, saying while there were geographical similarities, the latter achieved better handling of ships with sick seafarers onboard.
It said when the MV Sanyu entered Torres Strait waters last week, the ship alerted Australian authorities that 19 out of 21 crew members had tested positive for the virus.
Instead of obliging the vessel to turn around, state authorities used infection control processes to safely fly some of the crew to hospitals in south-east Queensland.
Meanwhile, a skeleton crew remained onboard and arrangements were made to have an emergency crew on standby which could be transported from the mainland if any of the working crew members became too sick.
Mike Gallacher, Ports Australia CEO, said: “Ports Australia is not aware of one instance where a Covid-19 case onboard a vessel pulling into an Australian port has resulted in community transmission, which simply means our protocols are working.
“Yes, we need a practical approach to safeguarding our people and economy, but we also need a humanitarian approach to protecting international seafarers who make trade possible.”
Shipping industry body Shipping Australia Limited (SAL) branded the potential law changes dangerous and immoral.
It said if the laws were changed the state would risk exposing seafarers to serious illness or possible death and could lead to inadequately crewed vessels becoming involved in accidents off Australia’s coastline.
Melwyn Noronha, Shipping Australia CEO, said: "Shipping Australia calls upon the WA government to recognise the vital importance of shipping by adopting a pragmatic risk management approach with the aim of facilitating trade.
“We also call upon the WA government to ensure that sick seafarers have access to appropriate medical care.”