Bulker Accused of Violating Quarantine Rules in Solomon Islands

Honiara harbor (file image courtesy Christopher John / Flickr)

Published May 1, 2020 5:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The bulker Worship Light has attracted considerable attention after allegedly making an unauthorized port call in the Solomon Islands - one of the few remaining nations that have not reported any cases of COVID-19.

After reaching Honiara on a voyage from mainland China, Worship Light allegedly entered harbor without prior notification, failed to use a marine pilot and violated national quarantine requirements. Despite a ban on the use of non-public terminals, she allegedly tied up at a private pier to conduct cargo operations.  

"On 15 April 2020, the MV Worship Light entered the port of Honiara . . . and anchored in the harbor area with no authorization of the Solomon Islands Port Authority and failed to provide pre-arrival information despite request of the port authority," said Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration director Thierry Nervale in a written order to the vessel's master on April 17. 

Nervale ordered the vessel to halt operations, depart immediately and stay away from Solomon Islands ports. However, the vessel reportedly called at two other Solomon Islands locations before leaving the region. 

The leader of the political opposition, Hon. Matthew Wale, told local media that the vessel was carrying a consignment of medical equipment from China. He questioned the government's decision to override national maritime regulators and allow the vessel to dock. 

"Not only was the order by the responsible authorities disobeyed, but the vessel was also even allowed to berth at a private wharf not controlled by [authorities], and not in the approved wharves, as per the quarantine requirements," Wale said. "It is clear that this vessel came to the Solomon Islands from China and that it spent less than the required days in Honiara. This too appears to be contrary to the quarantine period of 14 days for foreigners entering the country. Again this also casts serious doubts on the government’s seriousness in enforcing the emergency regulations to safeguard the interest of our people."

Wale called on the Solomon Islands government to explain how the vessel was allowed to bypass quarantine requirements, how the ship and her crew were inspected and what the outcome of any such inspections may have been. 

"The public is entitled to know, the legal authority upon which the vessel was allowed to enter and offload cargo without the responsible authorities, and any steps taken to ensure that the crew and cargo were properly checked before unloading," he said. 

Wale further alleged that the case of the Worship Light was not an isolated incident and that other vessels had also been allowed without public health controls. 

In a response Friday, the government asserted that the Worship Light was coronavirus free and accused Wale of using the case for political purposes. "At this critical time, the Leader of Official Opposition should not be engaging in political point scoring but as a responsible leader, Matthew Wale should be endeavouring to provide the public with correct facts and not mislead the public," the Solomon Islands government said in a statement. 

The 1994-built Worship Light is operated by a midsize Singaporean bulk shipping company.