According to the Maritime Union of Australia’s (MUA) Western Australia Branch, the recent arrival of the iron ore bulk carrier Vega Dream with seven infected crew members in the Port of Port Hedland provides ‘a stark reminder’ of the need for tougher measures to protect the people of Western Australia.
Prior to the discovery of COVID-19, the crew of the Vega Dream had direct contact with BHP’s day shift employees interacting with the vessel.
The MUA states that BHP, Pilbara Ports Authority and the Western Australian Government aren’t providing the WA community with the full picture.
Each Vessel arriving in a Western Australian Port is boarded by a Marine Pilot who manoeuvres the vessel into the Port.
The MUA outlines that Marine Pilots have direct exposure to the ship’s crew and are only provided with gloves and a face mask. Once the vessel is moored, the Pilot then returns to the community without any significant oversight.
The ship’s crew are permitted to depart the vessel to undertake ship’s functions alongside Western Australian Port Services employees and wharfie with as little as a facemask to mitigate the risk, the Union notes.
Moreover, it outlines that BHP and Pilbara Ports have no special procedures in place to deal with vessels that Arrive in WA after spending less than 14 days at sea. The MUA also states that there are no Medical Doctors on board the bulk carriers arriving in Port Hedland.
National President and State Secretary of the MUA’s WA Branch, Chris Cain, said that the State Government ‘would have you believe that the vessel remained anchored off the coast of Port Hedland’.
“When the crew were found to be infected with COVID-19, the Vega Dream was alongside in G Berth on Finucane Island, right in the heart of the Port of Port Hedland,” Mr Cain detailed.
“The McGowan Government is quick to remind us of the economic pressure preventing the implementation of a mandatory 14-day isolation for vessels arriving from coronavirus hotspots. What the Government doesn’t tell you is that this same economic pressure when placed directly on the Master of a vessel prevents transparent reporting of symptomatic crew members.”
“The McGowan Government expects a seafarer who stands to lose his job over reporting a suspected case of COVID to report it and cause substantial delays to a vessel and significant economic loss to the shipowner – this is crazy stuff,” Mr Cain said.
“We need to be very clear – there are no doctors on these ships.”
He commented that while the vessel was alongside, the crew of the Vega Dream stayed on the vessel and instead used a bucket over the side of the vessel to pass Ipads and paperwork to BHP employees.
“There were no special measures put in place, and after receiving the items from the crew members, the employees went back to work driving vehicles and operating ship loaders as normal,” Mr Cain said.
“What we have here is the McGowan Government putting the profits of the mining companies over the safety of the WA people.”
“BHP and the WA Government are not telling the whole truth”
“It beggars belief that while the government excludes WA citizens from their own state and rigidly enforces a so-called hard border, the Government is recklessly exposing our maritime border by asking seafarers from developing nations and global hotspots to self-manage the state’s security and confirm they have carried out a 14-day quarantine,” he concluded.