Australian Border Force Not Willing to Force Artania to Leave

file photo of Artania
file photo of Artania

By The Maritime Executive 04-02-2020 07:22:09

The cruise ship Artania is docked in Fremantle, Western Australia, while authorities decide whether to let her stay for another 14 days.

Most of the passengers have been flown home, but 12 of around 460 foreign crew onboard have been tested for COVID-19 after displaying flu-like symptoms.

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has urged the ship to leave, as he believes that potential COVID-19 cases could overwhelm local health services. The Artania is already responsible for around 40 COVID-19 cases in Western Australian hospitals.

The Artania has also been directed by the Australian Border Force (ABF) to depart Fremantle, but ABF Commissioner Michael Outram is taking a softer stance on the issue. He said the Artania's crew members undergoing the test could be safely quarantined on board, citing views from a medical expert from WA Health, the ship's master and onboard doctor.

“We don't need to bring them all off. There's a lot of room on that vessel,” says Outram. Crew members critical to the safe operation of the vessel are being isolated from the rest of the crew, and the ship is being disinfected. Meanwhile, Australian authorities are hoping to fly non-critical crew home over the next few days. 

“This ship and the owners and the people on board - the men and women on board the ship - have asked us for help. And I think I'd be really reluctant to force the issue and push it out to sea where I thought there's a risk to life at sea in those circumstances,” says Outram. “So, this is the choice that I face, is to, in this situation, demand that the ship puts to sea, in a situation where I'm receiving medical advice that that could risk the lives of the men and women on board that ship. So, I'm not prepared to do that, of course.”

The ABF issued a notice for all cruise ships not sailing the Australian flag to leave last month. “But as part of that process, they're also entitled to seek permission to stay,” says Outram. “And a lot of the ships around our waters have sought permission to stay... My general position is that they need to go back to their home ports or the flag states, that's my general position. In this case - the Artania - of course, there is a unique circumstance in that we've got to make sure that it's safe to do that.”

The Phoenix Reisen ship is expected to sail to Germany when she departs Australian waters.

There are currently eight cruise ships off Australia that are unwilling to leave. Prime minister Scott Morrison says Australia has an obligation to provide healthcare to people who are sick within its territorial waters. The government is organizing a team of doctors to review health of about foreign 8,500 crew onboard the ships.