A coronavirus-riddled cargo ship is berthed off the Port Hedland coast with two crew members already diagnosed with the disease and testing for the remainder of those on board pending.
The ship, the Patricia Oldendorff, arrived from Manila with a Filipino crew on September 16 and was scheduled to dock at Port Hedland Port this week to pick up a shipment of manganese ore.
Earlier this week the vessel’s master reported two of the 21 people on board were displaying flu-like symptoms.
Two nurses wearing full personal protective equipment were then transported to the ship by helicopter to take swabs from the affected crew members, which returned positive results late last night.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the Patricia Oldendorff’s entire crew remained on board, with the vessel anchored nine nautical miles off the Port Hedland coast and the two infected men in isolation.
A rapid response team — including clinicians and logistical staff — was scrambled to Port Hedland overnight and will assess whether the crew can remain on board or will be removed to complete a fortnight of isolation on land instead.
“What we will obviously do is leave a skeleton crew on board the ship if that is the case, to make sure that the ship can continue to turn over,” Mr Cook said.
“So the decision may be made to take the two unwell members off the boat, as well as any other members so that they can properly self-isolate.
“If that is the case, we will obviously undertake that quarantining in an appropriate hotel facility in Hedland.”
Mr Cook said a testing regime for the remainder of the crew – which would require another helicopter visit – would be decided tomorrow.
He said the ship left the Philippines on September 5 with a completely new crew, besides the ship’s master.
“So we know that obviously they’ve had some carriage of the disease from the Philippines and obviously there must be some spread amongst the crew there so we’ll need to undertake the necessary tests and protocols very carefully,” Mr Cook said.
The Health Minister said the two infected crew had respiratory symptoms but were “not unwell and don’t require hospitalisation”.
He stressed there was no danger to the WA community and that none of the ship’s crew had made contact with anyone on shore.
“We have strict protocols in place to manage COVID-19 risks at Western Australia ports,” Mr Cook said, adding he did not expect any disruption to the operations of Port Hedland Port, the State’s major point of departure for iron ore exports.
A returned traveller from the UK, currently in hotel quarantine, also tested positive to the disease overnight.
There are currently nine active COVID-19 cases in Western Australia, seven of which are returned travellers in quarantine.