Virus Cases Rise on Ship Stranded Off World’s Key Iron Ore Hub

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September 29, 2020

FILE PHOTO. Port Hedland. Photo: Shutterstock/Adwo

By David Stringer and Krystal Chia (Bloomberg) — Authorities in Australia are contending with a rising number of coronavirus cases among the crew of a bulk carrier anchored off Port Hedland, the key export hub for the country’s A$100 billion ($70 billion) iron ore sector.

A total of 17 of 21 seafarers from the Patricia Oldendorff, which had traveled from Manila and was scheduled to be loaded with manganese ore, have now tested positive, Western Australia’s health department said in a statement. Talks are underway between the vessel’s operator, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Pilbara Ports Authority over the safety of the ship and a plan to potentially send in a replacement crew.

The outbreak has raised concern over the potential for infections among shipping crews to disrupt global supply chains, including at Port Hedland, pivotal to Australia’s A$290 billion commodities export sector and which handles cargoes for BHP Group and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. In June, a vessel scheduled to deliver 56,000 sheep to the Middle East was stranded at a different Australian port after about 20 crew members contracted the virus.

Pilbara Ports Authority, which operates Port Hedland, is working with local health authorities and “can confirm there have been no impacts to our port operations,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

Western Australia’s government removed non-essential crew from the ship and has deployed infection control specialists and emergency services to Port Hedland under safety measures to protect the port and community. The vessel is being cleaned daily, the state’s Premier Mark McGowan said in a separate statement.

Of 11 seafarers who remain aboard the vessel as part of an essential crew, seven have tested positive, according to the state’s health department. A further 10 seafarers are in hotel quarantine after being transfered off the ship.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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