WALVIS BAY – Erongo health director Anna Jonas says they will allow the fishing sector to quarantine foreign crew on vessels, as long as they receive prior approval from the relevant authorities and is tested for Covid. Jonas responded to the issue raised on Friday by unions and seafarers, who were concerned after 127 foreign crewmembers boarded vessels to replace another group of foreign crew that departed for Europe on the same day. Jonas said this was not the first time that a foreign crew is quarantined on vessels, despite telling New Era on Thursday that no one will be allowed to quarantine crewmembers on board of vessels and that everyone must be quarantined on land before getting on a vessel.
“We had people leaving the sea being quarantined on vessels for 14 days and tested on day 12 before they disembark,” insisted the health director.
Jonas said they ensured no Namibian crew was on the vessels when the shipping crew exchanged shifts. However, seafarers questioned the exchange and accused the government of bending rules of the fishing industry, while others are required to go in a 14-day mandatory quarantine before entering the country.
Ironically, trade unions representing sea farmers and the fishing industry signed an agreement on 10 April, whereby the parties agreed to a 14-day quarantine of fishermen before embarking and disembarking fishing vessels, but they strongly advocated for no crew change.
It was signed by the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna) president, Paulus Hango; Namibia Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Nafau) secretary general Penda Jakob; president of the Namibia Fishing Industries and Fishermen Workers Union Daniel Imbili, and the Confederation of Namibia Fishing Industry Associations chairperson Matti Amukwa. Erongo Marine Enterprise managing director Martha Uumati on Saturday stated they had to make the crew change because of mental and physical fatigue among the foreign crew. Umati says they followed the correct procedures and quarantined all Namibian seafarers who are currently quarantined on land. “Our crew was taken straight to quarantine from the vessel and do not have contact with their family as well.” Erongo Marine Enterprise is one of the three companies that did a foreign crew change on Friday. The other companies are Tunacor and Carapau. “Our foreign crew change was approved by the health ministry and all relevant authorities. Our vessels have not been fishing since 22 June, when fishing was stopped due to the mental and physical fatigue of the foreign crew who worked far beyond their contract due to Covid-19 travel restrictions,” she said.
Uumati added the outgoing foreign crew was the only one on the vessel and handed the vessel operations over to the incoming crew, as, according to maritime safety rules, a vessel cannot be left unmanned. She said the 60 foreign crew members are divided into two groups of 30 per vessel and will concurrently be in quarantine on the vessels for 14 days. Thereafter, it will undergo a mandatory novel coronavirus testing by Namibian health authorities before any Namibian crew gets on board the vessels for fishing to resume. “We are extremely cautious that businesses can be rebuilt and jobs regained but lives cannot simply be replaced,” she said. – email@example.com