There are currently 43 Covid-19 cases who are international mariners either quarantined on their boats or in MIQ facilities, prompting questions about whether New Zealand should be doing more to tighten its maritime border.
Three foreign vessels carrying crew members who have tested positive for Covid-19 have arrived in New Zealand just this month. The ships — the Viking Bay, Playa Zahara and Mattina — are berthed in Wellington, Lyttelton and Bluff respectively.
Maritime Union of New Zealand spokesperson Victor Billot said protocols at the country’s maritime borders, for the most part, have been successful in keeping Covid-19 from spreading onshore.
Billot said while it may be tempting to stop all crews from sailing to New Zealand over fears of infection, the country had an obligation under international maritime law to care for people in its waters.
He added that ships, like ones carrying cargo, were important for the country’s importers and exporters.
However, he said the Government could consider whether bringing in fishing vessels were really necessary. Billot said many of these ships were coming to New Zealand to swap crew members, who came into the country on flights.
“In two cases, that’s what’s kind of led to the current problems with those vessels in [the ships berthed in] Lyttelton and Wellington,” he said of the fishing vessels Playa Zahara and Viking Bay.
Billot said there also wasn’t any point blaming the crew themselves for contracting Covid-19 because some were in “difficult” and potentially vulnerable situations.
“A lot of those crews coming in haven’t been vaccinated because they're coming from areas in the world where it hasn’t been rolled out properly yet. It’s actually a major international problem trying to get those crews on vessels or all types of vessels vaccinated,” he said.
Because international mariners weren’t covered by a New Zealand health order that will require the compulsory vaccination of port workers, the Government should consider whether it could vaccinate overseas crew while they were at the ports, Billot said.
He said the Government should start “putting a bit of pressure on the shipping companies”, who were ultimately responsible for their staff’s safety, and ask them what they were doing to keep crew safe.
Where are the cases?
Viking Bay, docked in Wellington
Eighteen crew members of Spanish-flagged deep-sea fishing vessel tested positive for Covid-19. Three of the infected mariners remain quarantined on the ship for safety reasons, while 15 are quarantined in Wellington's Grand Mercure MIQ facility.
Playa Zahara, docked in Lyttelton
The fishing vessel, also Spanish-flagged, has 16 positive cases among its 18 crew members. The ship is docked in a secure quarantine berth at Lyttelton Port after Port Taranaki refused to let the ship go ashore. Thirteen of the positive crew members are in the Sudima Hotel MIQ facility in Christchurch.
Mattina, docked in Bluff
The Marshall Islands-flagged container ship has been held back at South Port after nine of its 21 crew members tested positive for Covid-19. Two men were assessed in hospital yesterday and have since returned to the ship. Authorities said all of the cases were well enough to remain quarantined onboard the vessel.