A group of coronaviruses was detected on Tuesday on a cargo ship docked in the Australian port of Fremantle on the west coast, raising questions about why local authorities were not alerted to the danger.
Six of 48 Al Kuwaiti crew members tested positive for the virus four days after the UAE cattle transporter arrived on Friday, said Australian Prime Minister Mark McGowan.
The six infected crew members have been transferred to a quarantine hotel in the neighboring city of Perth while health officials are considering what to do with the other 42 on board, he said.
The cargo of the 56,000-sheep vessel is held in a feedlot near the port. They had to be loaded within a few days and could not be returned to farms due to quarantine restrictions, said McGowan.
Authorities expect more crew members to fall ill and the ship will need a thorough cleanup before it can leave.
The Kuwait-registered vessel left the United Arab Emirates on May 7 and was authorized on Wednesday by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment to dock at Fremantle despite the vessel’s report that three members crew had high temperatures, said McGowan.
Last Friday, the Australian Border Force gave final agreement for the ship to dock at Fremantle, although the captain of the ship reported one crew member with high temperature and three showing similar symptoms in the past 15 days said the Prime Minister.
“At this point, the Fremantle Port Authority has not been informed of the health concerns,” McGowan told reporters.
A port official followed the usual procedure by wearing personal protective equipment and boarding on Friday to help steer the ship in a berth, said McGowan.
The port authority only discovered the risk of the virus when one of its own employees sounded the alarm on Sunday, said McGowan.
Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said six port workers, including the pilot, were already on board.
McGowan said the pilot has been quarantined. He said that no resident of the country should have been allowed on the ship.
“We are very concerned and to some extent disappointed, but we are trying to find out who knew what and when so that we can learn from it,” said McGowan.
The government is working with the ship’s agent to organize her departure as soon as possible, he said.
Two federal departments did not immediately respond to requests for comment.