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Fishing vessel used to isolate foreign COVID case

Fishing vessel used to isolate foreign COVID case

Niël Terblanché

A MEMBER of a group of foreign sailors that arrived in Namibia from Russia last Friday during a crew change operation has been isolated onboard one of the fishing vessels employed by Erongo Marine Enterprises after he tested positive for COVID-19.


The Managing Director of Erongo Marine Enterprises, Dr. Martha Uumati, in an official statement, pointed out that the Namibian crew element was removed from the ship and quarantined elsewhere in Walvis Bay before the arrival and boarding of the foreign specialist crew members.


The crew change was necessitated by the fact that the specialist foreign crew members that were onboard the company’s vessels had been working far beyond their original contracts due to international travel restrictions.


“As is understandable, mental and physical fatigue set in at some point which put the safe operation of our vessels at risk,” said Dr Uumati.
She explained that the company intervened on 22 June 2020 and stopped fishing operations for the safety of both the crew and the vessels.



“This measure has compromised the income of the Namibian crew as they are currently earning only a basic salary as opposed to the additional commission when they are actively fishing,” she said.


Due to the age of the vessels and the fact that most of them are Russian built, specialized technical skills, which are currently not readily available in Namibia, are required to safely operate the boats.


“Although the person remains asymptomatic and is in a healthy condition, the crew member is currently being kept in isolation in a separate cabin on the affected vessel. This is currently the safest place to ensure the situation remains under control and that no possible infection of Namibian community members nor EME’s Namibian crew takes place. There are no Namibian crew members onboard the EME vessels,” Dr. Uumati said.


Dr. Uumati pointed out that all 60 of EME specialist foreign crew members were tested in their country of origin before their departure on the chartered flight and that all test results were negative at the time.


“This is exactly why Erongo Marine Enterprises took the extra precautionary measure of again testing all our specialist foreign crew members upon arrival in Namibia as they were on the crew change flight with other crew members, passing through airports and many other points of contact where they could have been exposed to the virus,” Dr Uumati said.


The foreign crew, 30 per vessel, were put in quarantine on the company’s two freezer trawlers, the MFV Desert Ruby and MFV Desert Jewel, immediately upon arrival in Namibia. Prior to this, the Namibian crew disembarked the vessels and were moved to three land-based quarantine facilities where they will remain until all crew is cleared of Covid-19 and fishing can resume.


Dr. Uumati said all safety and precautionary measures are strictly enforced on both vessels to ensure that no other foreign crew member will be infected. Covid-19 screening is conducted twice per day by a medical officer on board the EME vessels. Should the current health status of the infected crew member change, EME will inform the MoHSS immediately.


Dr. Uumati stressed that the health and safety of the company’s crew, be it Namibian or foreign, is of utmost importance to the company.


“We are currently operating on the principle that ‘businesses can be rebuilt and jobs regained but lives cannot.’ Hence, we do everything we can to protect all our workers,” said Dr Uumati.


She added that fishing operations will only resume once all crew, foreign and Namibian, have been certified by a medical practitioner as Covid-19 free.


The 60 foreign employees of Erongo Marine Enterprises were part of a group of 127 foreign specialist crew members that arrived in Namibia on Friday. The rest of the group went through the same stringent set of measures and were al quarantined on board the freezer trawlers of Tunacor and Namsov.


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