Covid 19 coronavirus: Government’s Tauranga infected ship ‘mistakes’ test border faith – port chairman

Port of Tauranga’s chairman says the flip-flops by Government Covid border watchdogs which exposed the country’s biggest port to a red-flagged infected ship make it “hard to have faith – too many mistakes are being made”.

David Pilkington said the port, New Zealand’s main export gateway and in current supply chain congestion, some months its busiest import port, was heavily reliant on Government authority advice in the pandemic.

“When we get mixed messages, and when we get information that clearly exposes our whole operation [to risk it’s hard to have faith – too many mistakes are being made.”

The port found itself at the centre of a Covid-Delta variant scare this past week after being told by Government agencies Maritime NZ and the Ministry of Health it could allow the container ship Rio de la Plata to tie up and unload imports bound for Auckland, despite official red flag advice its crew could have been exposed to Covid and shouldn’t be allowed to berth.

Cargo unloading was stopped then allowed to start again and stopped again when 11 of the crew tested positive.

More than 100 people who had contact with the vessel while it was in port then had to be tested and isolated. The initial results were all negative, the health ministry said.

Pilkington said if it wasn’t for Port of Tauranga’s strict Covid PPE measures and protocols, the situation could have been different.One of the port’s pilots had, after official clearance, worked on the vessel’s bridge where an Australian pilot, infected by the crew, had earlier navigated the vessel through the Great Barrier Reef area and Torres Strait.

“It’s testament to the care taken by our staff, and the precautions they take with things like PPE.”

Port of Tauranga chief executive Leonard Sampson has questioned the quality of border agencies’ risk assessment of the red-flagged vessel and has told the Herald he is looking forward to an investigation of the event.

The bulk of port workers who had to self-isolate and be tested were stevedores employed by companies contracted to the Port of Tauranga. Their vaccination rates were very low, the Government has said. The companies have been approached for comment by the Herald but have not responded.

About 90 per cent of frontline workers directly employed by the port have been vaccinated, the port has said.

Most of the workers and people who had contact with the ship – which included food and other suppliers – have been cleared by the health ministry to return to work.

The Singaporean-flagged container vessel left the port on Saturday afternoon with all its asymptomatic crew aboard and, after a period anchored offshore, is sailing for Malaysia.

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