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WA seeks federal help on ship crew safety

Western Australia’s health minister is urging the Commonwealth to take action on maritime crew arrangements after a second COVID-19 outbreak off the coast of Port Hedland.

Seven of the 20 crew from the Vega Dream iron ore bulk carrier, which arrived from the Philippines, have now tested positive.

The vessel left the Port Hedland terminal on Sunday and is now anchored 22 nautical miles off the coast and under the Commonwealth’s jurisdiction.

It is the second time in a fortnight that a ship has arrived from Manila with COVID-positive crew. There was also an outbreak on the now-departed Patricia Oldendorff bulk carrier.

Health Minister Roger Cook is urging the federal government to ensure Filipino authorities strengthen their maritime crew arrangements.

“These poor crew are having to join these vessels under very arduous circumstances and conditions anyway,” Mr Cook said on Tuesday.

“The fact that they are put on the vessel in a manner that potentially gives them the coronavirus is really of great concern and the Commonwealth should be reaching out to the Filipino government to say ‘get your house in order’.”

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the federal government was working closely with states and territories to facilitate COVID-safe crew changes.

“Our response to this pandemic has always been focused on saving lives and livelihoods and we will continue to do so,” he said.

“We will continue working closely with each state and territory to ensure the necessary systems are in place to enable our maritime industry to keep operating and supporting the economy, while safely achieving crew changes and protecting our communities from COVID-19 risks.”

All but one of the infected crew remain aboard the Vega Dream. They are isolating in separate quarters with ensuites and are in good spirits, Mr Cook said.

A man who was removed from the ship on Saturday and taken to Hedland Hospital’s isolation ward after becoming symptomatic will be transferred on Tuesday by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to a quarantine hotel in Perth.

The other sick crew will either remain isolated aboard while the ship sets sail or will be removed and placed into hotel quarantine.

Mr Cook said it was up to the Commonwealth to determine the next steps.

“We’re not trying to wash our hands off this, we’re simply saying it’s beyond our legal jurisdiction,” he said.

“We’ll provide whatever assistance we can.”

The health minister said the major mining companies that operate in WA were working to strengthen crew arrangements.

A woman in her 30s who travelled to Perth from India also tested positive on Tuesday. She is in hotel quarantine.

WA has 18 active cases.

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