Australia sends troops to help contain virus on ore ship from Manila


Posted at Sep 29 2020 09:55 PM

SYDNEY - Australian defense personnel are being deployed to Port Hedland, one of the world's largest iron ore loading ports, to help contain a coronavirus outbreak on a bulk carrier that last changed crews in the major seafaring city of Manila.

Seventeen of the 21 crew of the carrier have tested positive for the virus, shipowner Oldendorff Carriers said in a statement.

Ten of the infected crew members have been moved to hotel quarantine, and seven remain on board as part of a nine-person crew, authorities said.

Oldendorff said the crew change on Sept. 5 in Manila complied with all protocols.

"All crew members tested negative for the virus before leaving the Philippines," Oldendorff said.

The ship, which was scheduled to collect manganese ore for use in steel production, is anchored off Port Hedland on Australia's northwest coast.

The port is used by some of Australia's top iron ore miners, including BHP Group and Fortescue Metals Group, but operations had not been impacted, the Pilbara Ports Authority said.

A spokesman for privately held manganese producer Consolidated Minerals, which had expected the vessel, said a new ship had been chartered and would arrive early next week.

The disruption would not impact annual shipments, it said.

Western Australia closed its borders early in the pandemic. It now bars cruise ships but allows export carriers and limited air arrivals. It has had no local virus cases for nearly six months.

"We are well prepared to manage the situation in Port Hedland, and every possible measure is being put in place to protect the local community," Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan told reporters on Tuesday.

"We need to carefully manage this situation and those in hotel quarantine are being kept away from the public and under strict supervision."

Up to 10 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel were expected to be deployed to Port Hedland after a request for assistance from the state government, an ADF spokesman said in a statement.

Australia's coronavirus hotspot state of Victoria on Tuesday reported 10 new infections in the past 24 hours. That follows a second wave of contagion that was infecting more than 700 people a day in August.

The country's second-most populous state has placed nearly 5 million residents of its capital Melbourne under one of the world's most stringent lockdowns since early last month.

Victoria, which accounts for the bulk of Australia's 27,000 infections and 882 deaths, on Sunday lifted some of the restrictions, including nightly curfews.

Progress made in Victoria has encouraged Western Australia to soften its travel restrictions with the hotspot state, Premier McGowan said.

From Oct. 5, those arriving from Victoria will be able to quarantine at home rather than in a hotel.