29 Oct 2020

Shipping companies to manage and pay up for isolating crew - Ports of Auckland

10:06 am on 29 October 2020

The Ports of Auckland says shipping companies will have to foot the bill for isolating international crew as it mandates new rules for transfers aboard ships.

Auckland, New Zealand - May 25, 2017:  Aerial view of the port of Auckland New Zealand.

Shipping agents and companies will have to take responsibility for getting managed isolation spaces for international crew boarding ships at Ports of Auckland. Photo: 123RF

Currently, crew who arrive in New Zealand to relieve workers on ships are not required to do 14 days in isolation and are only tested for Covid-19 if they have to spend at least three days in a managed isolation facility while they wait to board their ship.

But the port has written to shipping agents saying the country's latest Covid-19 outbreak, involving a local marine engineer and two colleagues, has identified significant failings and it was now enforcing a new rule for them to isolate for 14 days and return negative tests.

Two of the three cases worked on the Sofrana Surville while it was docked in Auckland and eight crew flew in from the Philippines.

The Port of Tauranga has also joined in enforcing the same rule for international crew members going onboard a vessel in Tauranga.

The port said it understood this would create logistical challenges to shipping lines but it could not risk having to close the port due to another outbreak.

However, the government has signalled that it may change testing to cover all shipping crews transiting through New Zealand, even if just for 24 hours.

On the other hand, it said it had no plans to make crew do 14 days' quarantine because it would deter vessels from coming here.

Ports of Auckland head of communications Matt Ball told Morning Report that public health experts have already spoken out about the risks at the border, due to a lack of testing for crews.

Ball said it was an urgent risk and they decided to "fill the gap".

"We could see there were gaps in the process, it's a risk to our business, to our staff and a risk to the pacific islands," he said, noting that the Sofrana Surville had headed there en route to Australia after leaving New Zealand. "We hope the government will follow shortly."

However, shipping agents will have to take responsibility for managing spaces for the crew in the government's managed isolation facilities.

"The sort of numbers we are talking about aren't huge, so between now and January I think there are around 120 crew planned to transfer, so about 40 a month, that should be able to be handled through the managed isolation facilities," Ball said.

"We don't actually handle that crew transfer process but we can suffer from it if it goes wrong.

"So far example in the last process, we had to isolate one of our staff members - that staff member comes from a team of 10 people who are crucial to the operation of the port... If we lose too many of those we shut the port and international trade stops. The consequences of not doing anything are quite severe."

The shipping lines will also have to pick up the tab for isolating crew.

Ball said eventually this would end up saving the companies money if they ended up having a Covid case.

"It's their crew, they need to do the transfers ... the ship that got Covid [Sofrana Surville] then travelled to Brisbane where it's now sitting offshore, costing the company an absolute fortune. this is a much safer and will eventually be a much cheaper process."

He said shipping agents had so far responded in support of the approach.

"They've seen the problem that occurred with crew coming aboard through the transfer process and then being sick, it has caused problems in New Zealand and for the shipping line."

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