Six of 23 crew members on a bulk carrier anchored off Metro Vancouver have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Union officials have said the Japanese-owned Vega Rose ended up stuck at a container terminal in Delta for several days after the first positive test came back.
All of the affected crew members have been transferred to a federal quarantine site, and Transport Canada says it is monitoring the situation.
The captain of the Panama-registered ship began experiencing a sore throat and stomach pains shortly after arriving in B.C. waters on Sept. 2, according to a statement from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF).
He tested positive for COVID-19 the next day, the statement said. The federation said it was notified about the potential infections after the Vega Rose docked in Delta on Sept. 3.
The 192-metre-long Vega Rose, which is now anchored in Vancouver’s English Bay, was berthed at Deltaport for five days with a sealed gangway to prevent people from boarding or disembarking due to the fear of spreading the coronavirus.
It’s the second ship sailing Vancouver-area waters to report a COVID-19 outbreak among the crew since late August.
A release by Rick Hurtubise, president of International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 502, says two foremen had some limited contact with the vessel, but they wore full protective gear.
Westshore Terminals worked with Transport Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to move the vessel out of the terminal to English Bay.
Last Thursday, Transport Canada confirmed that a crew member had been taken off the Vega Rose and placed in quarantine.
Dock workers’ representatives say they are watching how the government handles the situation, which makes many port staff feel at risk given the transient nature of dock work and the close quarters for crew on board ships.
“If the infection hits the waterfront, it could go through our ranks rampant,” said Rob Ashton, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Ashton also fears that any crew member who sets sail infected with COVID-19 may risk death or disability, due to the limited medical facilities on board such vessels.
“That’s one of the biggest problems with this whole situation, is when vessels come in and they have sick crew members on them and we don’t keep the vessel here until the crew members are safe — the health and welfare of these seafarers who are the life blood of the trade industry are at risk,” he said.
“If we let ships set sail with sick crew members, what happens to those crew members? … I don’t want to see this vessel leave Canadian waters until everybody is healthy.”
In other parts of the world, Ashton said, ships are held in quarantine for 14 days or until the crew are healthy, but there is a reluctance to start doing that due to the impact on commerce.
In late August, a German-registered container ship called the Sofia Express reported two crew members with symptoms of COVID-19 while docked in Vancouver.
A Westshore Terminals dock worker who was last on shift in Delta on Sept. 1 also tested positive for COVID-19, though sanitization precautions meant there was low risk of further infection, the longshoremen’s union said.