Foreign fishing boats become new covid-19 threat for Pacific nations.
Barbara Dreaver reports:
Pacific governments are being warned to put urgent covid-19 safety measures into place at ports as foreign fishing boats emerge as a new point of transmission.
One Ecuadorian vessel is now at sea with 29 out of 30 of its crew covid-positive and there are suspicions of more.
Another issue has arisen with workers for the Dalian Ocean Fishing Company, a Chinese-owned company.
Four Indonesian crew members have died working for the company, all with the same covid-19 symptoms: chest pain, swelling and breathing difficulties.
It’s not known whether the men were covid-positive; the captains did not get help for them and their bodies were thrown overboard.
“We condemn the inhumane treatment against our crew members working at the Chinese fishing company,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said.
Another vessel had been fishing near Samoa and its government has held grave concerns for some time.
“We have the merchant shipping bringing goods and also some fishing boats, it is quite possible an infection could come to Samoa,” Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said earlier this month.
Bubba Cook works closely with Pacific governments to manage tuna stocks and said urgent action was needed.
“We should be monitoring these vessels when they are out at sea and when they come in, test, trace, track, ensure that the disease is not entering into these communities through these fishing vessels and the fishermen on board,” he said.
Last week, French Polynesia came to the aid of a seriously ill suspected covid-19 case on board an Ecuadorian fishing vessel.
The man was taken to Tahiti for urgent medical treatment, but the other 29 of the 30 crew who all tested covid-positive have been sent back out to sea.
“The anxiety on board will be very high because you are on a floating piece of steel in the middle of nowhere,” fisheries consultant Francisco Blaha said.
With strong unions, Ecuador’s crews are generally well cared for, unlike many Asian fishing vessels.
Instead it is often a transmission hotbed on board and captains often won’t get sick crew the help they need, driven by the need to stay at sea.
“You are talking in the Pacific alone, in the tuna fisheries, in the order of billions of dollars,” Cook said.
Wealth is too often trumping health, proving a red alert for Pacific ports.