Weeks After Heading Out to Sea, Fishing Crew Catches COVID-19

Ushuaia (Acaro / CC BY 3.0)

Published Jul 14, 2020 7:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

Argentina's health officials have a mystery to contend with: almost every member of the crew of the trawler Echizen Maru has contracted COVID-19, despite the fact that the ship has been continually at sea for more than a month. 

In late May, long before the vessel set sail, the Echizen Maru's 61 crewmembers took a COVID-19 test in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires and tested negative. They boarded a plane and flew to Ushuaia, where they entered a 14-day quarantine period at a hotel.

Weeks after they put out to sea, some individuals began to show COVID-like symptoms, and the Echizen Maru returned to port. Fully 57 out of 61 crewmembers tested positive; of the remaining four, two individuals are awaiting test results. Two individuals were hospitalized with COVID-related illness after an onboard medical exam by local public health officials. 

As the maximum incubation period for COVID-19 is widely believed to be about 14 days, the case raises interesting questions for epidemiologists.

"It is difficult to establish how the contagion [came on board], since in these 35 days they have not had contact with land and the supply [of food and fuel] it is only done when leaving the port," said Alejandra Alfaro, director of primary health care at Tierra del Fuego's health ministry. 

On Monday, Alfaro told Ushuaia24 that the case may be complicated by the fact that fishermen are used to rough conditions and may have simply kept going without recognizing or reporting COVID symptoms for an extended period. “Somewhere [the coronavirus] entered. We have to think that it was human contact or contact with merchandise, products, supplies. We know that [since] 35 days ago, no one, or any new input, got on the ship. Obviously something happened, perhaps there has been some degree of contagion inside the boat that was not registered," she said.