Littleproud disputes WA wasn't told of sick crew as six test positive for coronavirus aboard Fremantle livestock vessel
May 26, 2020
By Nathan Hondros, Heather McNeill and Hamish Hastie
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has disputed WA Premier Mark McGowan's claims the state was not told of sick crew aboard a livestock vessel docked in Fremantle.
Six crew were taken off the Al Kuwait after testing positive for coronavirus to be quarantined in a hotel in Perth.
Mr McGowan said he was concerned and disappointed the state government were not told by the federal government the ship had reported crew members with elevated temperatures and had to find out by "word of mouth".
But Mr Littleproud told Nine Radio's 6PR it wasn't until May 22 after the Al Kuwait had berthed in Fremantle that the ship notified the federal government a crew member had an elevated temperature and was showing symptoms of the disease.
"On the 20th of May they did notify that three people were sick but they didn't have any elevated temperatures and having sick people on boats is pretty par to the course sitting on a ship for a number of days," he said.
"It wasn't until the 22nd of May that in fact, the ship themselves notified the Department of Agriculture that someone had an elevated temperature and was showing symptoms.
"At that point, the Department of Agriculture immediately notifies the WA Department of Health, which it did."
Mr Littleproud said he had asked his department to provide the email sent to the WA Department of Health but was confident all the correct protocols were adhered to and warned against "elevating" the language around the issue.
"We are confident everyone has adhered to [the protocols] if they haven’t we would be more than happy to to be transparent about that," he said.
"When I get the email I will say that [Mr McGowan] is incorrect.
"I think it's important not to elevate the language on this at the moment."
Mr McGowan had said the ship was cleared to dock at Fremantle Port on May 22 by the federal Department of Agriculture despite the ship's master reporting to the Commonwealth that some crew members had high temperatures.
"We’re trying to get to the bottom of it, I don’t want to point fingers at this point in time, we're just trying to work out what’s going on," he said.
"Obviously we’re very concerned and to a degree disappointed [the ship was allowed to dock].
"Clearly if there’s cases of people reporting high temperatures on board, that should be reported and red flags should be raised."
The Premier said there were still 42 crew on the ship who would be monitored by health officials.
"I suspect it is probably more than likely that more crew members may become infected with the virus," he said.
An investigation was under way as to why the approval was granted and why the Fremantle Port Authority was not informed crew on the ship were ill and only discovered the cluster through "word of mouth" on the ground.
Late on Tuesday, the Australian Border Force released a statement that said it had completed all customs and immigration-related clearances but was not notified of any illnesses onboard the ship prior to its arrival in port on Friday.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said half a dozen Fremantle Port workers had boarded the ship in recent days and were now self-isolating.
He said no crew had disembarked the vessel prior to the testing despite having served their 14 day quarantine period at sea.
"The crew are multi-national, there are two Australians amongst the 48 crew," he said.
"The last port the vessel arrived from was the United Arab Emirates.
"With merchant seamen there is a requirement that you have to quarantine for 14 days and in this instance once we became aware that there were people presenting as ill and they were given a very clear instruction that no one was to come ashore.
"We need to maintain our vigilance, we need to be certain that any persons entering, living or operating within Western Australia do not come infected or do not spread the infection here."
The ship was due to collect 56,000 sheep and was destined for Kuwait in the Middle East.
The debacle comes as the final passenger from the Artania cruise ship was released from hospital in recent days after around 80 of the German-based cruise ship's crew and holiday-makers were struck down with the virus while the vessel was moored at Fremantle Port.
"Straight away I had thoughts of the cruise ship saga," Mr McGowan said.
"I thought these kind of situations were behind us.
"I don't want this to become another Artania where we are dealing daily with this situation so what I think we need to do is learn the lessons of the Artania – clean the ship, get the ship under way as soon as possible, deal with the health issues as quickly as possible."
Health Minister Roger Cook said he didn't expect the virus to impact the livestock vessel crew as badly as it had the Artania, which had 800 people on board and three fatal cases.
"I haven't received any reports as to their conditions, although you understand this isn't a ship full of older tourists, these are predominantly young merchant sailors so from that perspective they'll probably have flu-like symptoms for a few days while they make their way through the disease," he said.
Mr McGowan said he wanted the ship to leave WA waters as soon as possible, despite the 56,000 sheep in a holding dock in Baldivis being unable to be returned to the farm they originated from due to biosecurity restrictions.
“My advice to the Prime Minister ... and everyone else is Western Australia will be careful and cautious about the health of our citizens," he said.
"Issues like this and events like this make us wary in terms of bringing down restrictions, in particular the border with the east.”
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