N.L. health authority sues 2 Portuguese fishing vessels for $1M in unpaid COVID-19 medical services

The Princesa Santa Joana was anchored in Conception Bay for more than two weeks in July 2021, when a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than 30 people on board. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
The Princesa Santa Joana was anchored in Conception Bay for more than two weeks in July 2021, when a COVID-19 outbreak infected more than 30 people on board. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)

Eastern Health has filed legal action against two Portuguese fishing vessels and their owner to recoup more than $1 million in unpaid medical costs related to COVID-19 outbreaks that saw the ships anchor in Newfoundland waters during the summer of 2021.

The Princesa Santa Joana spent over two weeks in Conception Bay that July, with more than 30 active COVID-19 cases confirmed aboard.

The Santa Cristina anchored in Bay Bulls the same month, with four confirmed cases.

In documents filed at Federal Court last week, the health authority says it was asked to provide medical care to crew members of the ships who were suspected to be infected.

One person aboard the Santa Cristina spent a total of 128 days in hospital, with medical costs topping $615,000.

And five crew members from the Princesa Santa Joana incurred more than $414,000 in medical services, Eastern Health said in court filings.

Included in that total was a 52-day stay in hospital for one person, at a price tag of a quarter-million dollars.

Also included was another crew member aboard the Princesa Santa Joana who actually didn't have COVID-19 but was diagnosed instead with tuberculosis. He spent nearly a month in hospital, with medical fees approaching $140,000.

The health authority says several invoices for those medical services were provided to the defendants by the local agent for the vessels. Further demands for payment were sent almost a year ago.

In addition to the two ships, Eastern Health also named Antonio Conde & Companhia SA — an Aveiro, Portugal-based firm it understands to be their owner and/or operator — as a defendant.

The Princesa Santa Joana and Santa Cristina are both registered in Aveiro.

Chelsea Jacobs/CBC
Chelsea Jacobs/CBC

Eastern Health is seeking judgments for the total amount of the medical services provided — combined, more than $1 million — plus interest and costs.

If there is a default of payment on judgment, the health authority wants an order to appraise and sell the ships.

Eastern Health's claims have not yet been proven in court. There is no statement of defence on file at this point.

The health authority did not immediately respond to a CBC News request for comment Thursday afternoon.

The ship's owner could not be reached at an email address associated with the company.

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