Western Australia Tightens Crew Restrictions Due to COVID-19 Incidents

Western Australia dealing with COVID-19 on ships
Western Australia is limited crew movements as Fremantle has two more ships with infected crew members - file photo Fremantle harbor

Published Oct 20, 2020 8:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

Concern over the number of crew members and ships arriving in Western Australia with COVID-19 is leading to calls to restrict crew changes, turn away ships and even close the ports. The calls from leaders of industry, local officials, and politicians are growing as the state is dealing with another widespread outbreak on a ship docked in Fremantle.

Department of Health officials decided today to move the majority of the crew from the livestock carrier Al Messilah to shore after 24 crew members tested positive for COVID-19. In addition to the 24, they also brought 12 close contacts to shore, placing everyone in a quarantine hotel for two weeks, leaving the ship with only a skeleton crew. Also, it was reported that a second crew member on the bulk carrier Key Integrity in Fremantle tested positive. In that case, the health officials decided to quarantine the crew member aboard the ship keeping him separate from 17 crew members who tested negative.

The move to quarantine the crew onshore has led to calls from local leaders and even the maritime industry saying that this is an unsustainable approach for Western Australia. Fueling the concern was also the news that two individuals had been permitted to disembark the Al Messilah over the weekend before the outbreak was identified. One was an Australian veterinarian who boarded the Al Messilah ahead of its anticipated voyage. After being permitted to self-quarantine at home one of the individuals decided to join the quarantine hotel while the other individual travel by plane to Sydney. To date, both of these individuals are testing negative.

Western Australia responded to the situation by overnight enacting new rules governing crew changes with directions for the police force to begin enforcing the rules immediately. The shipping agency company GAC in its Hot Port News report outlines the changes, saying that crew members can now only disembark at Perth or are required to board charter flights to Perth as soon as possible but not more than eight hours after disembarkation. Once arriving in Perth, they will go to a quarantine hotel for 14 days at their own expense Western Australia office told the media.

GAC is also reported that crew is permitted ashore in the port area for port activities or transfer to another ship. If they are boarding flights from Perth internationally, they must either go directly to the airport or a quarantine approved location until their flight. Non-Australian residents are required to have flights booked before leaving their ships. The crew change rules permit crew members to fly into Perth to board ships, but they must also go into a quarantine hotel upon arrival. 

These steps, however, maybe be just interim measures as ABC News Australia is reporting that the WA Premier Mark McGowan told Parliament today that they were looking at the possibility of turning away ships from the ports when they arrived with infected crew members. He noted that Western Australia is dealing with four ships with positive crew members in less than one month. One of his concerns is that if they enacted this policy ships might not report suspected cases, but he told Parliament that it would send a strong signal to the shipping industry.

If Western Australia takes these actions it would be enforcing the strictest protocols in Australia and the first state in Australia to place additional restrictions on ship arrivals and crew changes. McGowan did not tell Parliament or the media when such restrictions might go into effect only saying they were under exploration.