Saint John port handles its first COVID-infected foreign vessel

·3 min read
The crude oil tanker Mare Picenum, which is owned by Fratelli d'Amico Armatori, is anchored about three nautical miles off the coast of Saint John with 24 crew on board, five of whom have tested positive for COVID-19. A sixth positive case is isolating ashore in a hotel. (Fratelli d'Amico Armatori - image credit)
The crude oil tanker Mare Picenum, which is owned by Fratelli d'Amico Armatori, is anchored about three nautical miles off the coast of Saint John with 24 crew on board, five of whom have tested positive for COVID-19. A sixth positive case is isolating ashore in a hotel. (Fratelli d'Amico Armatori - image credit)

Six crew members of the MV Mare Picenum, a crude oil tanker that anchored at Canaport in Saint John last week, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Public Health confirmed to CBC that one of those crew members is isolating onshore.

That individual left the ship for unrelated medical reasons, said Chris Hall, the port's vice-president of operations and harbour master.

While getting treatment, the person tested positive for COVID-19.

"We've been advised by Public Health that the individual is doing fine and that they are in a local hotel that is designated for isolation purposes," said Hall.

Meanwhile, the five other infected members are isolating in their ship cabins.

The rest of the crew, another 19 people, also remain on the vessel, which is currently anchored about three nautical miles off the coast, said Hall.

Isolating sailor in good spirits

The Saint John Seafarers Mission has been staying in touch with the mariner in the hotel.

"I've spoken to him and he seemed really well, very positive," said port chaplain Eric Phinney.

"He's got Wi-Fi in the hotel. He's got his phone with him and he's been talking to his wife."

Phinney says mission staff dropped off a few treats for the man, including some candy bars and souvenirs to let him know that he's not forgotten.

They also intend to stay in contact with the other crew members to make sure they have what they need.

Those who were aware of the situation thought the crew was in the care of Kent Line International, an affiliate of J.D. Irving, Ltd.

However, JDI said the vessel is owned by Fratelli d'Amico Armatori, an Italian company based out of Rome and the responsibility is theirs.

"Owners are responsible for all aspects of crewing as well as vessel operations," wrote spokesperson Anne McInerney in an email.

"We cannot speak on their behalf about crew matters."

First infected ship in Saint John

Port Saint John handles approximately 800 vessels per year and this is the first with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"We've had other situations where there were suspected cases with crew members exhibiting symptoms," said Hall.

"But in all those cases, the required testing was done by the provincial health authority and all of those cases were negative."

"So this is our actual first positive situation since [the pandemic] began. We're very fortunate, in a way."

Hall says the tanker's last port of call was New York.

He said it started to deliver its crude to Canaport but that operation was interrupted by weather.

Tanker shouldn't travel with COVID cases on board

Karl Risser says the ship shouldn't travel again until all crew members are healthy.

As an inspector for the International Transport Workers Federation, it's his job to watch out for the health, safety and welfare of foreign seafarers in Atlantic Canada.

"My concern is making sure these guys are healthy and safe before they allow this vessel to go to another port," said Risser.

"Ships can be very contagious. We work in tight spaces."

"There's a lot of overlap in dining and such. So you have to be really careful to make sure that these guys have a clean bill of health before they're allowed to leave Saint John and visit some other port in the world."

All ships from foreign countries must report to Transport Canada 96 hours before entering Canadian waters, said media relations spokesperson Simon Rivet. Once Transport Canada receives the report, it confirms the health status of the crew with the master.

Reports are shared with the Public Health Agency of Canada for immediate action, said Rivet. If needed, directions are given to the ship and to stakeholders like port operators and pilots.

Transport Canada is also working with other government partners like the Canada Border Services Agency, the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, he said.

CBC requested more information from the Public Health Agency of Canada but did not receive answers in time for publication.