Plague ships put elimination strategy at risk | The Jackal

20 Jul 2021

Plague ships put elimination strategy at risk

I’m sure you’ll agree that so far New Zealand has been very lucky in our fight against Covid-19. Even with the opening up of our borders with Australia, which is having a third wave of infections that's getting out of control, Aotearoa has dodged a bullet that most other countries haven’t been able to avoid.

However our luck might just be about to run out with the arrival of plague ships carrying numerous infected crew members who could potentially breach our borders, which are obviously a lot harder to maintain at harbours compared to international airports. 

On Sunday, 1 News reported:

Playa Zahara fishing vessel with Covid-positive crew arrives at Lyttelton Port

The Playa Zahara fishing vessel with 16 Covid-positive crew members on board has docked in Lyttelton Port this morning.

Three of the 18 crew members on the vessel Friday tested positive for the more contagious Delta variant, according to the Ministry of Health.

"The most recent crew aboard the Playa Zahara had arrived in New Zealand on June 18 and spent two days at a managed isolation facility in Auckland. They provided negative pre-departure tests before arriving in New Zealand and again tested negative before boarding the ship."

Two days in managed isolation is hardly enough time to ensure they weren't contagious. I mean who exactly is pulling the Ministry of Health’s strings here to get these fishermen released early?

But if that wasn’t bad enough, we also have container ships arriving with infected crews as well.

Today, 1 News reported:

Seven more crew onboard container ship at Bluff test positive for Covid-19

Seven more crew members onboard the Mattina container ship, currently in quarantine in Bluff, have now tested positive for Covid-19, this Ministry of Health has confirmed.

There are currently nine cases linked to the vessel after two were announced yesterday.

The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel came into port on Sunday night and all 21 crew members were tested yesterday morning after two crew members initially reported having virus symptoms.

All crew remain on the ship as health officials from Southern DHB work with other agencies to determine the next steps, the ministry said.

A further 16 Covid-positive crew members onboard the Viking Bay fishing vessel were also transferred to quarantine facilities in Wellington. Thirteen of the cases tested positive for the more contagious Delta variant.

You’ve got to wonder why authorities allowed people who haven’t been properly tested or quarantined to get onto these vessels in the first place? You’ve also got to wonder why the taxpayer and not the fishing or shipping companies are now picking up the tab for this failure?

Furthermore, how exactly did all their tests initially come back negative when so many of these crew members are infected? This clearly shows that the testing these companies use isn’t robust enough and therefore cannot be relied upon.

Evidently the MoH's systems for checking crews in New Zealand aren’t up to scratch either. And until this problem is rectified, we should be putting a halt to all foreign fishing crews from working in our territorial waters. It’s not as if our already depleted fishing stock couldn’t do with a break if Covid free crews cannot be found. Yet here we are still importing foreign labor and putting our entire Covid-19 elimination strategy at risk.

It would only take one infected crew member to leave their ship for all our hard work to be undone. However there's another risk to not turning these plague ships around as well. Studies have shown that Covid can survive on frozen fish and packaging for a very long time. We should therefore be doing everything in our power to ensure no more infected crews arrive in New Zealand. Because if there’s one thing that Covid-19 should have taught us by now, it's that any weakness in our defences will be exploited.