The region’s politicians have welcomed Port Taranakis call to refuse entry to the ship with two Covid-infected mariners on board, but maritime industry experts are questioning the decision.
On Wednesday, Port Taranaki said Viking Bay, the deep sea fishing vessel carrying the mariners and more crew, was not welcome, after hearing during the Governments daily press briefing it could be coming to shore later that day.
But the ship spent the night at sea and on Thursday the Ministry of Health (MOH) could not say which port the ship would berth at, but it would likely be one with a quarantine facility.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry said it was unlikely to be the New Plymouth port because it did not have a facility. When it did arrive at shore, 15 of the 20 crew aboard Viking Bay would be expected to go into a managed isolation and quarantine facility.
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In its statement, the Ministry confirmed at least one of the two has the Delta variant of Covid-19, which is more infectious.
This sequencing also shows this infection is not linked to any other cases in New Zealand, the Ministry said.
Nine members of the Viking Bay crew arrived at Auckland Airport on Monday before driving to New Plymouth where they joined the vessel and headed to sea Tuesday morning. Two crewmen were confirmed as testing positive for Covid-19 later that day.
Mori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who is from Taranaki, supported the port’s decision.
In a text, Te Pti Mori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said the port had made the absolute right move in refusing to allow Viking Bay to return and berth in New Plymouth.
Ngarewa-Packer, of Ngti Ruanui, was involved in iwi checkpoints at the Taranaki regional borders during level 3 Covid restrictions last year.
She had attended a recent hui with iwi leaders where many questions were raised regarding the border-to-port process.
If New Zealand is bringing in essential service workers from countries plagued with Covid we need sight of that and how Customs and the Ministry of Health are managing.
While he felt sorry for the crew, New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom said the port made the right call.
New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom also supported the port’s decision, as it had the region’s interest at heart.
I think it’s a good decision.
But we do feel sorry for the crew they’re sick, they’re stuck offshore.
It’s no surprise the pair backed the port.
In August last year, they and other community leaders were in favour of setting up a Taranaki bubble when there was community transmission in Auckland and threats of the North Island moving to alert level 3.
It is the crew’s wellbeing at the heart of a maritime law expert’s concerns about the port company’s decision.
The two mariners who tested positive for Covid-19 are currently isolating about 60 kilometres off the Taranaki coast on a fishing vessel.
Victoria University associate professor Joanna Mossop, who specialises in the law of the sea, was surprise to hear Port Taranaki had refused the vessel entry.
Mossop said New Zealand had a number of obligations in international law, including helping foreign crews.
If a vessel is in distress, it should be able to come into port, she said. Like anything that posses a risk to the life of crew members.
Mossop said it might be OK if New Zealand is coming up with a plan to help the crew get to shore for medical attention.
We can’t just say no, we don’t want you here.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health said it still didn’t know where the Viking Bay would come back to port.
The associate professor said her other concern wasn’t law related, it came down to ethics.
The other problem really is that of humanitarianism, she said. They should be able to enter into port.
Maritime Union secretary Craig Harrison agreed.
Theres a humanitarian question here, Harrison said. Logically, Id say the ship’s all got it [Covid] now.
He said it was wrong to leave them out there with no help, and he thought the port had made a decision on the hop without thinking about the consequences.
Theyre stuck out there with Covid on the vessel, Harrison said. There doesnt seem to be much support.
Port Taranaki made the call on Wednesday afternoon the vessel was not welcome back to land through it.
He thought the crew should be able to come back to Taranaki, without anyone getting off, and Ministry of Health and MIQ workers should be able to test everyone and get them treatment or isolate them.
It’s not the crews fault, Harrison said. Nip it in the bud, bring it back in.
Phoenix Shipping agent Bill Preston said it would have been nice if the Ministry of Health had communicated with others before announcing the vessel would return to Port Taranaki.
I think the minister shouldve spoken to the port and all other parties before they made that announcement, Preston said.
At the moment, the ship would be on standby, monitoring its people but probably not fishing, Preston said. They will absolutely be losing money waiting to find out where to next.