MANILA— More than half of 21 seamen in an all-Filipino crew of a container vessel arrived in the Philippines with COVID-19 Thursday, with two of them critical, after a two-day port stop in India where the disease has scored record-breaking deaths and infection rates.
The Philippines' Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) said a total of 12 Filipino crew members of MV Athens Bridge were confirmed to have contracted the disease after docking in India in late April and showing symptoms while at a port stop in Vietnam.
The two critical cases have been brought to a medical facility, while the rest of the crew— the 10 others infected and 9 who are COVID-free— remain in the vessel in separate cabins, said Marina OIC Office of the Deputy Administrator for Planning Capt. Jeffrey Solon.
The ship is currently anchored some 10 kilometers off Sangley Point, Cavite. There is enough food and water for the quarantined crewmen, and medical equipment and oxygen tanks were brought aboard, the Marina official said.
Athens Bridge's shipping agent said the vessel left India on April 22 after two days at port, then docked in Vietnam 5 days later.
The now infected crew members started experiencing symptoms there and underwent COVID-19 RT-PCR testing on May 1. When 12 of the all-Filipino crew were found to be positive, the ship was diverted to the Philippines.
Solon said the vessel was welcomed as it was already in transit before the Philippines enforced a ban on those who had traveled from India in the last 14 days.
He said the Filipino seamen may have acquired the infection from stevedores who go docked ships to remove lashing bars that hold containers together.
“Ang situation kasi sa isang container vessel, karamihan non ay may mga stevedores na sumasampa para tanggalin 'yung mga lashing bars o 'yung mga bakal na humahawak ng container. Para hindi yan mahulog. So ito ay mabibigat na mga bakal… itong mga stevedores na ito ang umaakyat sa barko. So maaaring doon nagkakahawaan" he said.
(The situation in a container vessel, most of the time there are stevedores that go up to remove lashing bars that hold containers together so they won't fall. These are heavy steel. So these stevedores who go up the ship, this might be where they got the infection.)
Solon said the Philippine Coast Guard is watching over the ship while docked off to Cavite to prevent any vessel from approaching.
India has been recording new daily highs of COVID-19 infections, with another 414,188 reported Friday and an additional 3,915 deaths.
The second most populous country in the world has recorded a total of 21.49 million infections, with cases believed to be driven by a fierce double mutant variant.
The Philippine government has said it was doing its best to prevent the entry of the variant. On Thursday, the health department reported that 5 travelers from India had tested positive for COVID-19, with the variant still undetermined.
— with reports from Jacque Manabat, ABS-CBN News, and Reuters