Foreign crew member tests positive

13 July 2020 | Fishing

Erongo Marine Enterprises (EME) confirmed today that one of its specialist foreign crew members who was part of the foreign crew change flight that landed in Namibia on 10 July (Friday), tested positive for Covid-19.

The company said it had informed the ministry of health and social services (MoHSS) of the situation.

“Although the person remains asymptomatic and in a healthy condition, the crew member is currently being kept in isolation in a separate cabin on the affected vessel. This is 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 EME vessels,” the company said in a statement today.

EME managing director (MD) Dr Martha Uumati said that all EME specialist foreign crew members, sixty in total, 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 EME took the precautionary measure of testing all our specialist foreign crew members upon arrival in Namibia again, 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,” Uumati said.

EME said that 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.

Safety measures enforced

Prior to this, the Namibian crew disembarked from the vessels and were moved to three MoHSS approved land-based quarantine facilities where they will remain until all crew are cleared of Covid-19 and fishing can resume.

“All safety and precautionary measures are strictly enforced on both vessels to ensure that no other foreign crew member will be infected through transfer. Covid-19 screening is conducted twice a 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,” the company said.

Uumati added that the MoHSS has unhindered access to both vessels for inspection at any time to ensure that the company is operating as per the company’s Covid-19 standard operating procedures, which is aligned to government’s State of Emergency regulations.

She underlined that the health and safety of the company’s crew, be it Namibian or foreign, is of outmost importance. “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,” she said.

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.

According to EME, the foreign 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 Covid-19 travel restrictions.
“As is understandable, mental and physical fatigue set in at some point, which put the safe operation of our vessels at risk,” Uumati said.

She explained that the company intervened on 22 June 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 a basic salary as opposed to additional commission when they are actively fishing,” she said.

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

Currently approximately 70% of crew aboard the company’s freezer trawlers are Namibians, whilst 30% are specialist foreign crew in key positions.

This marks significant progress in Namibianisation and skills transfer compared to two decades ago when these vessels were 100% manned by expatriates.

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