30 Oct 2020

'No room for complacency' - New testing requirements for international maritime workers

5:02 pm on 30 October 2020

Mandatory testing of international replacement maritime workers will begin rolling out next week, the Health Minister says.

Watch Hipkins speaking here:

Chris Hipkins said maritime workers will be tested regardless of how long they will be in transit in New Zealand.

Departing crews will also be tested.

"Yesterday I instructed officials to consult with the maritime sector around tightening of the requirements for international maritime crew entering the country," Hipkins said.

"Ultimately, this will mean mandatory testing for all replacement maritime crew arriving in New Zealand, regardless of the time they spend in transit. This will begin from next week, with any maritime crew in managed isolation for more than 24 hours getting a Covid-19 test."

Hipkins said they were still working out the logistics for crew who are in the country for less than 24 hours.

"Those who are literally transferring straight through the airport and off to the ship, we have to figure out where they will be tested. Most likely they'll be tested at the airport, because we do have testing taking place at the airport, we just have to line up the logistics of how that happens", he said.

Hipkins said it will take a few more days to work through the detail on this with the shipping companies.

He said at the same time maritime crew departing New Zealand would also be tested.

"We would be covering the costs of the tests."

If they're having to stay longer if they test positive and would need to stay in managed isolation, Hipkins said the government would expect the shipping companies to pay for that.

Hipkins said there were two types of ship transfers - those joining ships that are not based in New Zealand and those joining ships in New Zealand that have foreign crew including shipping vessels.

The latter have to complete 14 days in isolation.

"We want to make sure ships still come to New Zealand."

He said if the government made it difficult to do transfers, those ships might choose to bypass the country. "We can't afford for that to happen."

The country relies on them for the import and export of goods, Hipkins said.

The ministry will be talking to Ports of Auckland and Tauranga.

Hipkins said specifics would be discussed with those companies in the coming days.

"There is no room for complacency," he said.

"The government recognises mandatory testing may present some challenges for the maritime sector. Officials will continue to work with key stakeholders to ensure these new measures do not disrupt supply chains or put undue pressure on our managed isolation facilities."

Hipkins said the new requirement would ensure New Zealand's maritime border was safe.

"These changes balance the need to keep Covid-19 out at the border, while at the same time protecting the supply chain in order to ensure the flow of import and export goods to and from New Zealand."

Hipkins said there was a potential for New Zealand to have safe travel with countries that were Covid-free.

"We do want to be able to resume travel with Australia when we can do that."

"Things are looking more promising [in Victoria].

"Their elimination strategy is starting to bite."

It comes after the Ports of Auckland and Port of Tauranga both enforced a requirement that international crew intending to board vessels in New Zealand must go into isolation for 14 days and test negative for the virus before doing so.

Both ports said they could not risk a complete closure if there was another outbreak, after a local marine engineer and two colleagues became infected when eight crew - who only isolated briefly and did not get tests - flew in from overseas to board the docked Sofrana Surville in Auckland.

Ports of Auckland spokesman Matt Ball said the change is a step in the right direction but doesn't go far enough.

He said if testing people on arrival worked we wouldn't need managed isolation for anyone.

"We think its necessary to isolate crew because, if they're just tested when they arrive, they could be carrying the virus but not be showing symptoms yet.

"They can then take that onto ships and then interact with port staff or other people who are servicing the ship and then you have an entry point into New Zealand," he said.

What happened on the Sofrana Surville is a prime example of why isolation is needed for all change over crew, Ball said.

"Crew who flew in from the Philippines and were not tested went onto the ship, then New Zealand workers went on and fixed things while that overseas crew was on board and passed on the infection.

"We can't guarantee that won't happen again," he said.

Workers at the Ports of Auckland feel safer going to work knowing they won't be mingling with international crew who have not been test he said.

"The government's suggestion that ships will stop coming here if crews have to isolate won't be realised, most shipping agents we've spoken to are fine with it."

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