The Government may tighten shore-leave controls on crews of visiting ships as it toughens Covid-19 border restrictions after two women were released from self-isolation, then tested positive.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the case unacceptable and put a senior military official in charge of overseeing the isolation and quarantine process.
Ship crew are free to come ashore if they meet health and isolation conditions, except in Auckland where the port company is the only one to ban routine shore leave due to Covid-19, under alert level one.
Elsewhere, if a ship has previously been at sea for 14 days and declares no relevant health problems among crew, there is no test or physical Covid-19 control as they come ashore.
“The Minister is currently seeking advice on further tightening up these requirements,” said a spokesperson for the Minister of Health David Clark, in response to a query from Stuff.
Major ports contacted by Stuff, at Tauranga, Wellington and Lyttelton follow the Ministry of Health and Maritime New Zealand rules, with decisions on shore leave, made by local public health authorities.
Ports of Auckland (POAL) is the only location where the port company made itself one of the gatekeepers, and it does not allow crew to come ashore, due to Covid-19 risk.
“We’re restricting general shore leave because we feel there are insufficient border controls in place and allowing general shore leave would be an unacceptable risk to the community,” said POAL spokesman Matt Ball.
“Crew of foreign vessels must not be transported onto or from the Ports of Auckland without permission from a General Manager from the Ports of Auckland, Customs and Auckland Regional Public Health Service,” said POAL’s ‘Covid-19 Controls for Contact with Visiting Foreign Vessels – alert level 1’ guide.
In Late May, under Covid-19 alert level two, Port Taranaki told Stuff crew were coming ashore in line with health and Maritime New Zealand guidelines.
In a statement, a Port Taranaki spokesman said berths had been busy with methanol, log, bulk feed, and petrochemical vessels visiting the port, and ship crews were taking the opportunity to get off the water, stock up on provisions, and discover New Plymouth.
The “14-days at sea” criteria prior to a ship arriving at its first New Zealand port, is considered to be a Covid-19 self-isolation period under the guidelines applying to shipping.
“Shore leave is not permitted during the self-isolation period. If the crew need to interact with border or port staff they should follow the advice on personal protection for border staff,” said a spokesperson for Wellington’s Centreport.
A spokesperson at another port told Stuff that crew numbers on cargo ships were small, and at any time shipping companies were highly health-conscious.
Lyttelton Port Company told Stuff that while all shore leave had been banned under Covid-19 alert levels four and three, the decision now lay with Canterbury District Health Board.
“It has been reinforced to Port Companies around New Zealand by the Director of Maritime New Zealand that such leave for crew should be allowed if these criteria are met,” said Phil De Joux, LPC’s strategic engagement manager, in a statement.
Ports of Auckland said there had been difficulty on one occasion getting a sick crew member tested, although the case turned out to be negative.
“We would like clarity on what to do when crew arrive sick and ask to see a doctor, especially if they are reporting flu-like symptoms,” said Ball.
“In the absence of clear guidance, we have asked vessels to request a doctor visit crew on board ship. The only exception is in cases of emergency,” he said.