The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says three container ships that departed foreign ports in recent days are due to dock in Darwin this week, despite failing to undertake the 14 day coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine period. The union says the ships pose a clear health risk to workers and the community, and its comments come after union workers in Melbourne refused to unload another vessel.
The Singapore-flagged Kota Harum, which departed Hong Kong on March 25, will dock in Darwin on April 3 after eight days at sea. The Cyprus-flagged Antung is also due to arrive on Friday after visiting Indonesia on March 28 and East Timor on April 1. The Liberia-flagged ANL Dili Trader, which departed Singapore on March 25, is due to dock on Saturday.
These arrivals follow the arrival of the Chinese container vessel Xin Da Lian in Melbourne earlier in the week. Wharfies were stood down at the DP World terminal after refusing to unload that ship because it had failed to complete a 14-day quarantine period after leaving Taiwan on March 19.
Commercial vessels continue to dock in Australian ports without crew members undertaking 14 days isolation — as is required by all other travellers — despite clear COVID-19 guidelines to the maritime industry from the Health Department that all vessels should undertake it if arriving from another country, says the MUA.
The MUA said wharfies understood their important role during the current pandemic but refused to stand by while foreign vessels were allowed to breach essential measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the community. “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.
“It is outrageous that at a time when people are being told to stay in their homes, to not even take their kids to the park, that the Australian Government is continuing to allow foreign vessels to unload in our ports without undertaking a 14 day quarantine period.
“Wharfies are simply demanding that the Health Department’s guidelines be enforced to prevent the spread of coronavirus on the waterfront, which means ensuring all vessels undertake a 14 day isolation period after leaving their last foreign port before docking in Australia.
“If there is a COVID-19 outbreak on the waterfront, it could have devastating impacts, not only to the health of workers, but on the supply chains that provide 98 percent of Australia’s imports, including medical supplies, food, and household goods.”
DP World issued a statement saying the Melbourne wharfies' safety concerns were unfounded. “The vessel had been cleared to berth at DP World Melbourne by the Australian Border Force who is responsible for all border clearance processes in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Biosecurity,” said Andrew Adam, Chief Operating Officer.
“The directions are very clear, and we don’t make the rules, these are defined by Australian Border Force. Any crew members aboard a vessel that has been to mainland China, must have been at sea for 14 days before they are allowed to dock in Australia.
“The vessel left Shanghai in China on 17 March and arrived in Melbourne on 31 March. It has been out at sea for 14 days. The union is not allowed to unilaterally declare a vessel unsafe: they are not allowed to create their own set of rules.
“At all times, our priority is to keep trade flowing, and maintain the health and safety of our employees and our operations. DP World conducts rigorous safety processes on every vessel that visit our terminals. DP World’s Covid-19 response focuses on how to keep our ports and terminals operational, and this is achieved by prioritizing safety.”