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New strain of Covid-19 suspected on cargo vessel

29 October 2020

A vessel crewed by seafarers who may have been exposed to a novel strain of Covid-19 is currently being kept at anchor off the Sunshine Coast, Australia, after a warning issued by authorities in New Zealand.

Two seafarers from the Sofrana Surville have already been airlifted to hospital after testing positive for the disease. It is believed a that a New Zealand port worker who was recently found to have contracted Covid-19 may have caught it while working aboard the vessel.

The New South Wales Ministry of Health, which was asked to conduct genomic sequencing of the suspected new strain of Covid-19 using samples from the two seafarers. revealed on 30 October that the samples were degraded and did not produce any evidence of a new strain.

'The marine electrical technician that caught Covid-19 from work performed aboard the ship in Auckland, has a strain unknown in New Zealand,' said Mark Davis, executive officer at the Australian Maritime Officers' Union (AMOU), an affiliate of the Nautilus Federation. 'The Queensland health authorities do not seem overly concerned about this, as a disease that has been around as long as Covid-19 is bound to develop multiple strains.

'There is a concern that the port worker contracted the disease even though he was wearing PPE and taking precautions. Apparently, he should have been engaged to do the work aboard Sofrana Surville at a time closer to sailing when there would have been fewer crew members around.'
Both Queensland and Western Australia are tightening restrictions on international seafarers who arrive in the states, according to Martin Byrne, federal secretary of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE), a Nautilus Federation affiliate.

'The Sofrana Surville is just one of several ships which have arrived in Australian waters and had COVID-19 positive cases on board,' he said. 'Queensland and West Australia have both had multiple arrivals and these have attracted significant local media attention.'

'Unfortunately some of these positive cases have been detected in seafarers flying into Australia to join a ship. This has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the pre-departure quarantine systems in the labour supply countries including the Philippines and India.'


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