8 Jul 2021

Covid-19: Uncertainty remains over vessels' requests to dock

9:16 pm on 8 July 2021

It is still unclear where a deep-sea fishing vessel with two covid-19-infected crew members onboard will be allowed to dock.

View of Taranaki port from afar in New Plymouth.

The Viking Bay is currently off the coast of Taranaki. Photo: 123RF

The Spanish-flagged Viking Bay is currently off the coast of Taranaki. But the port has rejected it and the vessel's operators have now asked to dock in Auckland.

A second fishing boat also wants to dock in New Zealand because crew have flu-like symptoms.

An all-of-government response team is working out the next steps for the Viking Bay, but it is unlikely it will return to Port Taranaki.

The Ports of Auckland has agreed to allow the fishing vessel with two Covid-19 infected crew members to access its quarantine anchorage.

A spokesperson for Ports of Auckland says the ship will not be coming into port, but will be anchoring near Rangitoto Island.

It's now been confirmed one of mariners has a Delta variant not linked to any other New Zealand cases.

They, along with the second case and 13 other crew members are expected to go into an MIQ facility, but New Plymouth has none.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said logistics would play a determining role in where the ship went.

"We don't want people floating out at sea if they are sick with covid. "We do want to bring them onshore and make sure they are getting the isolation and the treatment that they need so that they are all kept safe."

Maritime Union national secretary Craig Harrison was surprised it had not yet been decided where the ship could dock.

"I think our main concern is to make sure the crew is safe and being looked after, so I welcome them trying to make arrangements for them but as of yet that still hasn't happened, has it?"

Meanwhile, a second foreign-owned fishing boat operating here has reported it has a number of crew onboard with flu-like symptoms.

Harrison said providing help to them should be a no-brainer.

"You know any ship in distress when they call for assistance it's usually given,"he said.

"It's a given that a ship in distress is helped because you're talking about people. The crew are actually people, they're human beings."

The new vessel is outside New Zealand territorial waters and officials say it presents no immediate risk

Meanwhile, the shipping agent who represented the Viking Bay in New Plymouth - Billy Preston - said he had had no update from the ship's master on the crew's condition.

"No. They were were just being isolated from everyone else and waiting to see what's happening.

"If there's any concern in regards to their health I'm pretty sure the captain would be making calls to come back to try and work out how he's going to get they guys off or treat the problem."

He believed the ship could have docked with minimal or no contact with port staff, but he understood Port Taranaki's decision to bar it from entry.

Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper declined an interview, but said he stood by that decision.

Bitumen supply company Technix director John Matthews, whose firm is located at the port, backed the decision to keep the Viking Bay offshore.

"I think their primary duty of care is to look after their activity at the port that's their business," he said.

"I thinks the port's job is to make sure that everybody who works there is secure."

Matthews said it was up to government agencies to make sure the crew were okay.

Health officials continue to regard the situation with the Viking Bay as low-risk. There remains no associated locations of interest.

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