Covid-19 scare at Port of Tauranga

The Rio de la Plata at the container terminal this morning. Photo: Alisha Evans/SunLive.

A Covid-19 scare at the Port of Tauranga has caused an “unsettling, stressful and frustrating situation for workers”.

A concerned port worker contacted SunLive this morning, after a vessel arrived in port yesterday with what he believed was a suspected Covid case onboard.

The worker says those who were meant to unload the ship were sent home.

He says workers were given “very limited information”.

In a statement released to SunLive this morning, a Port of Tauranga spokesperson says the situation has been stressful for workers.

On Tuesday, the Port received an alert from Maritime NZ that a container ship at anchor, the Rio de la Plata, had been boarded two weeks ago by an Australian pilot, who recently tested positive for Covid-19.

Maritime NZ subsequently cleared the ship for pilot boarding.

The ship was also cleared to berth by the Medical Officer of Health at Toi Te Ora Public Health as part of the normal free pratique process, says the spokesperson

A Port of Tauranga pilot boarded the vessel around 5pm on Wednesday and brought the ship in to the Tauranga container terminal, she says.

“At about 9pm, Customs NZ unexpectedly shut down operations on the ship and the local public health unit advised Port of Tauranga that our pilot and the stevedores unloading the ship should go home and isolate while awaiting further instructions.

“This morning, government agencies have clarified the situation and the Public Health Unit has advised us that operations can resume on the vessel and there is no need for workers to isolate.”

Everyone in contact with the ship has been wearing PPE and no one on board has any symptoms, she says.

“Port of Tauranga’s primary concern is for the port workers and health of those on board the ship.

“This has been a very unsettling, stressful and frustrating situation for the workers involved and we will be working with government agencies to ensure this situation can be avoided in future.”

A Ministry of Health spokesperson says based on early information, the local Public Health Unit requested a halt to the unloading of the Rio De La Plata last night and directed port staff unloading the ship to isolate at home until further instruction.

After receiving more complete information this morning clearing the ship of any concern, the Public Health Unit has allowed unloading to resume and port staff have been advised to return to work, says the spokesperson.

“The initial action was taken from an abundance of caution and the Ministry of Health now considers the risk to be minimal,” says the spokesperson.

The ministry was previously made aware of a ship pilot who had been onboard Rio De La Plata from July 21 to July 23 while the ship was in Australian waters and nine days later tested positive for Covid-19.

Given the number of days since the pilot had been onboard the ship and the fact that he was not onboard during his infectious period, it was deemed extremely unlikely that he posed any risk to the ship’s crew, says the spokesperson.

“Australian Health Officials have confirmed the pilot posed negligible risk to the crew.”

None of the crew onboard the ship are currently symptomatic, they say.

“The ministry acknowledges that the situation may have been frustrating for some staff, however it is essential we move quickly based on the information available to manage risks to ensure Covid-19 does not enter our community.”

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