A livestock carrier arrived in Fremantle, Australia with six crew members who later tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The incident is stirring up new controversies in Australia in an already politically charged environment.
The livestock carrier Al Kuwait arrived in Western Australia on its second voyage for Kuwait Livestock Transport & Trading after having been acquired from Wellard Limited, which launched this livestock carrier as the Ocean Shearer in 2016. With a 23,500 square meter carrying capacity, it can transport 20,000 cattle or 75,000 sheep or a combination of both, making it the largest vessel of its kind. The vessel was empty at the time of its arrival into Australia.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment, the vessel reported, “three unwell crew members but none with elevated temperatures or COVID-like symptoms prior to arrival.” After the vessel docked, the Department reported that it became aware of crew members with elevated temperatures and immediately notified the Western Australian Department of Health.
COVID-19 testing was performed on the crew that numbered 48 and six have tested positive for the virus. The six were moved to quarantine in a Perth hotel, while under Australian requirements, no crew members are being permitted to leave the vessel.
The Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment highlighted that all of its staff that came in contact with the vessel were in full personal protective equipment with all necessary precautions having been taken. Further, it said in an official statement that it was confident that government protocols were met. It went on to say that the Western Australia Department of Health is responsible for the management of this incident, including all decisions relating to human health.
A political firestorm is brewing with multiple accusations being leveled over the situation. The Fremantle Port Authority is saying it only found out after its staff handled the ship. It reports that several of its workers may have been exposed unknowingly to the virus and then returned to the community. The port’s workers are now being isolated and a contact tracing effort has begun.
Among the questions being asked is who knew about the situation on the vessel and were the proper notifications made in a timely fashion. The Western Australia Premier, Mark McGowan, contends that local officials were not notified before the ship’s arrival while the Federal Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, is saying there was no concern and all protocols were carried out. Local officials in Western Australia are saying that the process needs to be reviewed and better notification systems established to ensure that people are not put in harm’s way.
At the same time, there have been calls that the ship should immediately be sent away from Australia while it is also being acknowledged that the ship should be thoroughly cleaned first. There are also fears that additional crew members may fall ill with the virus.
The Al Kuwait had sailed from Hamad Port in Qatar on May 7, arriving in the Perth area on May 22 on its scheduled run to pick up livestock for transport back to the Middle East. Federal authorities permitted the vessel to dock, although the harbor pilot reportedly was wearing PPE.
According to various accusations, it was not until two days later that the Fremantle authorities heard reports that crew members were sick and ordered no one to leave the vessel. The following day COVID-19 tests were administered.
The vessel is no stranger to controversy since its introduction. Animal welfare group repeatedly protested saying the live export of cattle, sheep, and goats results in immeasurable animal suffering. These claims were supported by a series of high profile incidents recently in the transport of animals from Australia.
After being acquired by Kuwait Livestock Transport & Trading in March, the vessel completed its first voyage departing Fremantle in mid-April loaded with 60,183 sheep and 910 cattle. It then made an 18-day voyage to the Gulf ports of Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar, during which 62 sheep died.
Further complicating the current situation for the Al Kuwait, live sheep exports to the Middle East will stop as of June 1 with the commencement of the summer moratorium preventing shipments from leaving Australia. The trade is not expected to resume till mid-September.
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