A coronavirus outbreak has emerged in Perth as six crew aboard a livestock ship have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Al Kuwait is currently docked at Fremantle Port and West Australian premier Mark McGowan expects more cases from the vessel.
The ship docked on Friday after sailing from the United Arab Emirates, with 48 multinational crew on board.
Mr McGowan said the situation was extremely concerning and all of the men who tested positive were being quarantined at a Perth hotel while the remaining 42 were being kept on board.
‘We suspect it is more than likely more crew members may become infected with the virus,’ Mr McGowan told reporters on Tuesday, the Western Australian reports.
‘This is an extremely concerning situation that we find ourselves in.’
The Commonwealth government granted the livestock ship permission to dock on May 22, despite a pre-arrival report two days earlier noting three crew members had elevated temperatures.
A Freemantle port worker boarded the Al Kuwait to help it steer it into the berth on Friday, as part of the standard process.
They have since been placed into isolation as well as their any relevant close contacts.
None of the crew, aside from those who tested positive, have left the ship since it docked.
Two members of the multinational crew are Australian.
Mr McGowan said he was first notified about the situation on Tuesday morning, but authorities had became aware of the issue on Sunday.
He said the debacle reminded him of the Ruby Princess disaster in NSW, where 2700 passengers were allowed to freely disembark in Sydney, leading to more than 600 cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths.
‘Straight away, I had thoughts of the cruise ship saga,’ Mr McGowan said.
‘I’m advised the ship was granted to enter the Port of Fremantle by the Commonwealth Government on May 20. At that time three crew members reported elevated temperatures.
‘On May 22, the ship provided an updated report to Australian Border Force which included one crew with a high temperature and three showing similar symptoms in the last 15 days. This was when the final clearance was provided by the Commonwealth for the ship to berth.
‘At this point, the Fremantle Port Authority was not made aware of the health concerns. A Fremantle Port worker, wearing PPE, went onboard the ship on the 22nd to help steer her into a berth at the port as per the usual process.
‘This person, and any relevant close contacts, are now in isolation. It wasn’t until Sunday evening that the Fremantle Port Authority learnt of some health issues on the ship. This came by word of mouth from another worker at the port. This information was then reported through the usual channels.
‘And now we find ourselves in this situation. We’re working as quickly as possible to get to the bottom of the situation. Clearly, this is not good. We want to get to a resolution as soon as possible so that the ship is in a position to leave the port.”
Mr McGowan said the Police Commissioner has contacted the Australian Border Force Commissioner and the Federal Department of Agriculture to understand how the ship was permitted to berth in WA.
Live sheep were intended to be loaded onto the ship in coming days, before departing before the Federal Government’s 1 June mandatory three-month live export pause comes into effect.
The ship was due to export 56,000 sheep to Kuwait and the UAE.
All of these sheep are currently being held in a feedlot in Baldivis and will not be able to return to farm due to biosecurity regulations.
Mr McGowan said the WA government is working with the Federal Government and the exporter to find a resolution.
‘We want to get to a resolution as soon as possible, so the ship is in a position to leave our port,’ he said.
‘I want to stress that we are well prepared for this situation, and have strong processes in place to manage all crew members.
‘We will continue to do everything we can to protect Western Australians, and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our State.