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Covid-19: Two sailors on quarantined ship at Bluff test positive, dock worker movements are investigated


Two sailors aboard a quarantined container ship near Bluff have tested positive for Covid-19, the health ministry says.

The container ship Mattina arrived in port on Sunday evening, with all 21 crew members tested on Monday morning.

The ministry said rapid tests have been ordered for two symptomatic crew members on board, while test results for the remaining crew members are still pending. They were expected back Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

Health officials said the condition of the two symptomatic cases “improved”.

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Officials were also investigating a dock worker who guided the ship to port Sunday evening and interacted with crew members, a ministry spokesman said.

Geoff Finnerty, acting chief executive of South Port, said a port pilot who boarded the ship had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and was wearing full PPE gear.

The worker was also encouraged to maintain physical distance and limit interaction with the crew, Finnerty said.


The Playa Zahara, a crewed fishing vessel with Covid-19, docks in Lyttelton harbor on Sunday morning.

Port management was informed Friday by Public Health South that crew members aboard a ship scheduled to dock in Bluff were showing flu-like symptoms, Finnerty said.

The two had already been isolated from the rest of the crew as a precaution.

“Since then, South Port has been working closely with Public Health South to manage the quarantine and testing of the ship and its crew,” Finnerty said.

The port worked with health officials to minimize the risk to port personnel and the wider community, he said.

A Health Ministry spokesman said: “No one else has been on or off the ship since it docked. This morning’s testing for Covid-19 took place on the walkway and all applicable protocols were followed by public health personnel, including personal protective equipment.”

WellSouth chief executive Andrew Swanson-Dobbs confirmed earlier in the day that the primary health organization’s testing team had conducted the swabbing.

Bluff Community President Raymond Fife called on residents to have confidence in the Department of Health's systems for dealing with Covid-19.

John Hawkins / Stuff

Bluff Community President Raymond Fife called on residents to have confidence in the Department of Health’s systems for dealing with Covid-19.

The two crew members who recorded positive results on Monday boarded the Marshall Island-flagged ship in Singapore on July 2. Both delivered negative tests prior to departure.

Officials from the Southern District Health Board worked with other government agencies to determine the next steps for the vessel. Until decisions were made, all crew members on board the ship would remain in Bluff.

The Ministry of Health confirmed that the ship had been quarantined in a “secure part of the harbor”, which was not open to the public. A gate would be placed to further restrict access to the ship.

Bluff Community Board Chairman Raymond Fife said he was scheduled to board as a stevedore on Tuesday.

Unloading from the ship was expected to begin Sunday evening, but was delayed as the crew members showed symptoms, he said.

There would undoubtedly be concern among residents once news of the cases started to spread, Fife said, but he was confident the health ministry was doing everything right.

“The community just needs to trust the ministry’s systems,” he said.

National Secretary of the Maritime Union of New Zealand Craig Harrison said the harbor pilot was under the NZ Merchant Service Guild.

The ship was quarantined in Bluff Harbor.  (File photo)

Robyn Edie / Stuff

The ship was quarantined in Bluff Harbor. (File photo)

Speaking to the industry, Harrison said he was annoyed that Covid-19 cases were showing up among employees employed by large, profitable shipping companies.

“You’d think they could vaccinate the crew,” Harrison said.

Pilots were usually the first to board incoming stores, meaning they were most at risk of picking up the virus from foreign crews, but they followed strict protocols, he said.

This is the third foreign-flagged vessel stationed off the coast of New Zealand and confirmed to carry Covid-positive seamen, but Harrison noted it was the first container vessel to register a positive case.

Sixteen crew members from the fishing vessel Viking Bay, which arrived in Wellington last Monday, tested positive and were placed in isolation in the capital.

Of the four crew members who remained on board, three returned positive tests on Sunday.

The Playa Zahara vessel transferred 13 of its 18 crew to a managed isolation facility in Christchurch on Sunday.

Five crew members remained on board and would be subject to daily welfare and health checks.

Six of the 16 infected crew members were confirmed to have the Delta variant, but were not linked to any previously confirmed cases in New Zealand or on the Viking Bay vessel.

Customs remains at the port while the Playa Zahara was docked, but it was detained in a quarantine birth in an exclusion zone with no public access.


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