The Al Kuwait ship (file image) is the source of a coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Karen Leavy
The Al Kuwait ship (file image) is the source of a coronavirus outbreak. Picture: Karen Leavy

Questions over ’serious’ ship outbreak

Western Australia is dealing with a "fast-evolving" outbreak of coronavirus on a live export ship that docked at Fremantle Port last Friday.

Premier Mark McGowan said the Al Kuwait departed the United Arab Emirates on May 7 with a total of 48 crew on board and of seven who underwent tests this morning, six have tested positive for COVID-19.

Those six men have been removed from the ship and moved to a hotel in Perth for quarantine and monitoring.

"For the time being, the remaining 42 crew members, who I am advised are currently well, will remain onboard the ship and will be monitored and undergo health assessments as required," Mr McGowan told reporters.

"But I suspect it is probably more than likely that more crew members may become infected with the virus."

And he said there were serious questions to be answered about why federal authorities allowed the ship to dock despite seeming to know it had sick crew on board.

The livestock transport ship, the Al Kuwait, is currently docked at Fremantle Port. Picture: Ross Swanborough
The livestock transport ship, the Al Kuwait, is currently docked at Fremantle Port. Picture: Ross Swanborough

 

An emergency response is now under way involving WA Health, WA Police, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Fremantle Port, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and Australian Border Force, he said.

"This is an extremely concerning situation that we find ourselves in," Mr McGowan said.

A team from WA Health is currently on board the Al Kuwait to "further survey the crew and provide advice" but the premier insisted the state is well-positioned to deal with the outbreak.

"We've flattened the curve of COVID-19, we have significantly reduced the community spread of the virus and our hospital system is now prepared."

A visibly troubled Mr McGowan said the situation was "serious news" that he hoped not to have to deliver.

"I thought these kinds of situations were behind us. It goes to show that strong border controls are important as we continue to handle this worldwide health crisis."

But he also indicated there will be questions to answer over how the ship was allowed to enter the port.

 

Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan is displeased that the ship was allowed to dock. Picture: AAP
Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan is displeased that the ship was allowed to dock. Picture: AAP

 

HOW IT UNFOLDED

The Al Kuwait set sail on May 7 and docked at Fremantle Port on May 22 after receiving clearance from the Commonwealth Government, Mr McGowan said.

At that time, three crew members had elevated temperatures and the ship provided a report to Australian Border Force stating one crew member had a high temperature and three had shown similar symptoms in the previous 15 days.

"At this point, the Fremantle Port Authority was not made aware of the health concerns," he revealed.

"A Fremantle Port worker, wearing (personal protective equipment), went onboard the ship on the 22nd to help steer her into a berth at the port as per the usual process. This person, and any relevant close contacts, are now in isolation.

"It wasn't until Sunday evening that the Fremantle Port Authority learnt of some health issues on the ship. This came by word of mouth from another worker at the port. This information was then reported through the usual channels."

 

The Al Kuwait docked last Friday but WA authorities weren’t informed there were sick crew on board until Sunday. Picture: Richard Polden
The Al Kuwait docked last Friday but WA authorities weren’t informed there were sick crew on board until Sunday. Picture: Richard Polden

 

Mr McGowan said he was briefed on the outbreak this morning and authorities are now working "as quickly as possible to get to the bottom of the situation".

"Clearly, this is not good. We want to get to a resolution as soon as possible so that the ship is in a position to leave the port.

"The Police Commissioner has reached out to the Australian Border Force Commissioner and the federal Department of Agriculture to try to get an understanding as to why the ship was allowed to be berthed at our port."

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the Commonwealth Government made initial contact with the shop on May 18 and the arrival report was submitted two days later.

On both occasions, it was indicated that "a number of the crew were ill", Commissioner Dawson said.

Mr McGowan was reluctant to attack federal authorities, saying he didn't want to "point fingers at this point in time".

But he vowed to "get to the bottom of it".

Western Australia Health Minister Roger Cook said the situation was a reminder that the state isn’t free of COVID-19. Picture: AAP
Western Australia Health Minister Roger Cook said the situation was a reminder that the state isn’t free of COVID-19. Picture: AAP

 

A STARK REMINDER

Health Minister Roger Cook said the evolving situation was a reminder that WA was not free of the coronavirus.

And it's a justification for the state keeping its border closed, Mr Cook said.

"There are still people getting sick and we are still at risk. We cannot be careful enough. I've said before that we expect to see clusters of the virus continue to pop up.

"This is another reason why our hard border must stay for now. It is working to our advantage. We are not seeing community transmission. We can trace nearly every case back to its source."

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said no other crew from the Al Kuwait have come ashore at any stage.

However, port workers had been on board before the outbreak was known.

"The Fremantle Port Authority told me there were up to half a dozen people, including the pilot, who had been on the vessel for their normal duties," Commissioner Dawson said.

"We know all who those people are."

 

Originally published as Questions over 'serious' ship outbreak



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