New Zealand urgently needs to focus on supply chain

The global effects of Covid-19 are putting real pressure on the New Zealand supply chain, economist Cameron Bagrie told the road freight transport industry this week.

Covid-19 meant no industry conference this year, so the Road Transport Forum invited Cameron to give us one of his popular industry updates via Zoom.

There was good news and bad news, and Cameron is pretty good at looking at how you can turn the bad news into good news. But there is no escaping there is pain ahead as we watch parts of Europe and the UK shut down again for a second autumn/winter wave of Covid.

What Cameron told us is what we are hearing across the board, and we are trying to get Government to listen. If for example, there is a Covid-19 vaccine and New Zealand is able to secure some, the supply chain is not in place to get it here and distribute it.

While exports are still working for New Zealand, imports are going down and sourcing goods is becoming a problem.

Cameron says people are talking about demand when they should be talking about supply – Covid is not supply friendly and “the Reserve Bank can’t fix supply chains”.

New Zealand is a small market to service and so is never going to be at the top of the queue. And while we can do a lot for ourselves, we are reliant on all manner of goods coming into the country to let us do that. When securing essential items becomes impossible, what’s the plan?

Some urgent thinking needs to go into managing this growing and critical risk and looking at how New Zealand can boost capability locally and fast.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to goods only. Migration numbers have gone from booming to collapse which creates another point of vulnerability for New Zealand. There have been years of underinvestment in key skills and capability because we could always import them from overseas, Cameron says. But to get the economy moving in areas such as infrastructure, or to manufacture locally what we can no longer source from off shore, we are woefully short of expertise.

In the spirit of never letting a good disaster go to waste, Covid-19 presents opportunities for some.

“Think small to stand tall,” Cameron says. While the macro-economy is beyond the control of individual businesses, focus with a ruthless obsession on all the little business levers. Get up every day and make a small improvement and over a couple of months, the dial will start to move in the right direction.

While human instinct may be to hunker down in bad economic times, the people being rewarded in the Covid world are those taking risks and there is a growing wedge between firms that are adaptive and those that are not.

Covid-19 is a bit of a lightning rod for rapid changes that were already occurring. People working from home, for example, was starting to happen but became the only option during lockdown. The changes that have come with that means distribution moving from city centres to suburban areas as people start to buy in the suburbs where they are working, rather than the central business district where their company may have been located.

There is also pressure in an economic downturn to cut prices but if items are in short supply, or can’t be sourced, no sensible business is going to do that. The reverse is more likely.

Cameron wants to see both the Government and businesses take more risks and embrace technology and change. He would prefer the Government out there spending on critical infrastructure and the Reserve Bank doing a lot less. He is critical of the Reserve Bank driving down interest rates and says all this will do is widen the gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in our society by making housing affordability worse.

He had some strong advice for the RTF too and that was to keep making some noise on the government front as there is not enough representation for small and medium sized businesses.

“You are going to be getting into a bit of a dog fight, but it will be needed,” he said.

As we wait for the new Government to be formed, we are certainly gearing up to represent our essential part of the supply chain that is going to keep New Zealand moving in any kind of Covid-19 response and recovery.

We recorded Cameron Bagrie’s presentation and as this is just a snapshot, it is well worth viewing here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum

Port of Tauranga says no cruise ships for two years will cost economy $100m

Port of Tauranga doesn’t expect cruise ships to visit for the next two summers.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFFPort of Tauranga doesn’t expect cruise ships to visit for the next two summers.

Port of Tauranga is not expecting any cruise ship visits for the next two summers, leaving a $100 million hole in the regional economy.

The cruise season traditionally runs from October to April, but border closures in March because of to Covid-19 have cancelled ship visits indefinitely.

“Despite the premature and sudden end to the summer cruise ship season due to Covid-19, we still hosted a total of 106 passenger vessels, just 10 fewer than last season,” chief executive Mark Cairns told the port company’s annual meeting on Friday.

“However, we are not budgeting for any cruise ship visits this summer or even the following. Whilst this doesn’t represent a significant amount of marine revenue for the port, it is around $100m of cash receipts that will not be going into the regional economy.”

Tauranga is New Zealand’s biggest shipping hub, moving goods to and from other ports around the country, and its wider business has been hurt by a slowdown in shipping because of Covid-19. Profit dropped 10 per cent last year, after cracking $100m the previous year, as the pandemic curtailed ship visits and reduced volumes moving through the port.

“It would certainly be an understatement to describe 2020 as a tumultuous year,” Cairns said.PauseMuteCurrent Time 0:00/Duration 3:08Loaded: 15.97% FullscreenJASON DORDAY/STUFFLabour’s finance spokesman Grant Robertson talks to business owners at an Auckland Business Chamber event.

Despite the “Herculean efforts” of the company’s staff who continued as essential workers during lockdown and even set a new record for moving containers on a single vessel, Covid-19 had inevitably impacted the port’s cargo volumes and financial results last year, he said.

“We are confident of growth over the long-term at the port, and our ability to retain and grow market share,” he said.

“The outlook for the 2021 financial year has, however, presented a few short-term headwinds. Covid makes it extremely difficult to forecast future trade flows.”

In the first quarter of the new financial year, from July 1 to September 30, the port made an after-tax profit of $21.5m, little changed from $21.7m last year, Cairns said.

Based on the first-quarter performance, Cairns said he expected full-year profit of between $86m and $93m. That compares with a $90m profit last year.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns presided over his last annual meeting ahead of his retirement.
IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFFPort of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns presided over his last annual meeting ahead of his retirement.

“Port of Tauranga is a long-run infrastructure company and we will continue to pursue capacity expansion and greater efficiencies, to avoid the bottlenecks and congestion currently being experienced in the Upper North Island supply chain,” he said.

“We believe we are well-placed to weather whatever the Covid-19 storm throws at us next.”

Cairns was presiding over his last annual meeting of the company, having previously announced his intention to retire at the end of this financial year, after 15 years with the port.

In the first quarter, the port handled nearly 6.4 million tonnes of cargo, a 5 per cent drop from last year, while containerised cargo fell 8 per cent.

Imports were the same as the first quarter last year, but exports fell 8 per cent.

Log exports were performing in line with forecasts of 6.2 million tonnes for the full year, but remain vulnerable to variable international demand, he said.

Dairy product exports dropped about 12 per cent from last year, which Cairns attributed to seasonal variations. Kiwifruit exports increased 9 per cent.

Port of Tauranga shares fell 1.5 per cent on Friday to $7.24, and have dropped 7.4 per cent this year.

Coronavirus: Ports ‘won’t change position’ on foreign crew COVID-19 rules, despite Health Minister’s request

The Health Minister has moved to plug a gap in New Zealand’s COVID-19 response system, with all foreign ship crew coming in or out the country will now face mandatory testing. 

However, the country’s two biggest ports, Auckland and Tauranga, already have that and more – making the Minister’s announcement largely redundant. 

Hundreds of foreign seafarers have flown into New Zealand and boarded ships without being tested – but that will no longer be allowed. 

“Today, I’m announcing that we will be introducing mandatory testing for all workers that will be transferring onto or off a ship through New Zealand,” Chris Hipkins said at a press conference on Friday.

Foreign crews transfers – or crew swaps – happen so seafarers, who’ve made the often weeks-long journey to New Zealand on a ship, can then fly out and return to their homes overseas. 

The rule change follows a border failure which saw an Auckland engineer catch COVID-19. 

The most likely source was untested foreign crew, who’d flown into Auckland and boarded the bulk carrier, Sofrana Surville, in Taranaki – the same ship the engineer was working on. 

But the Minister’s announcement will actually have little effect, as the country’s two biggest ports have already said that it will be mandatory for all foreign crew to undergo 14 days in isolation and produce double negative tests before they board any ship. 

“We would prefer that the ports didn’t go and set up their own arrangements and set their own rules,” Hipkins said.

But those arrangements are already in place. 

“We’re not going to change our position on this,” Matt Ball, Ports of Auckland spokesperson, told Newshub. “We think it’s really important to protect our staff.”

The Minister doesn’t want foreign crew to isolate for 14 days, saying he doesn’t want to disrupt cargo ship operations.

“If we said that every ship coming into New Zealand had to float offshore for 14 days, they simply wouldn’t come,” Hipkins explained.

But Ball says that’s simply not the case, and not how it works. He says all it means is that shipping agents need to plan to get crew in two weeks earlier. 

Hipkins said the measure the Ports of Auckland have put in place won’t really increase protection at all – but again, the company disagrees.

“All we’ve done is basically introduce for transferring crew the same measures that anyone coming into New Zealand has to go through [14 days in managed isolation],” Ball says.

“So it must be safe, because the Government’s approved it.”

Ball says it’s about providing the best possible layers of protection for their staff – but also for staff at ports in the Pacific and beyond. 

Covid 19 coronavirus: International crews arriving at Auckland and Tauranga ports now face mandatory isolation

International crews arriving at the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga must now complete 14 days in managed isolation. Photo / File
International crews arriving at the Ports of Auckland and Tauranga must now complete 14 days in managed isolation. Photo / File

NZ Herald – By: Courtney Winter

Two of the country’s biggest ports are now requiring all international crews to do 14 days in managed isolation – and they want other ports to follow suit.

The ports of Auckland and Tauranga made the move despite Health Minister Chris Hipkins saying today that this would mean a number of ships wouldn’t come to New Zealand.

Hipkins told RNZ that every crewmember entering the country could soon be required to be tested for Covid 19 but he’s yet to decide whether to put all shipping crews through managed isolation.

The current situation is that crew who are flown into New Zealand are taken straight to the port to join their vessel if it is leaving port that day, after being collected by a vehicle with a driver in PPE gear.

Ports of Auckland’s general communications manager Matt Ball said the 14-day managed isolation requirement was introduced last week, after it became clear the likely source of the current port worker cluster was eight Philippine seamen who went through the port untested.

Ball said the port has had a positive response from its shipping companies regarding the requirement.

He said it gave crews and shipping companies reassurance there were no infected people on board.

A Port of Tauranga spokesperson said the company sent an advisory notice to shipping agents last night requiring international crew members joining a vessel in Tauranga to complete 14 days in managed isolation and test negative for Covid-19.

The port understood this created logistical challenges for its shipping line customers, the notice said.

“However, we cannot risk having to close the port due to operational staff being in quarantine.”

All international crews arriving in the Port of Tauranga now face a mandatory two-week quarantine. Photo / File
All international crews arriving in the Port of Tauranga now face a mandatory two-week quarantine. Photo / File

The Ministry of Health didn’t answer specific questions. However, in a statement it said it regularly reviewed the Covid-19 strategy to ensure that it remained fit for purpose for its elimination strategy – this included reviewing what the testing programme for port workers and crew members looked like.

Health officials were working closely with border agencies on how to limit the risk of Covid-19, it said.

Immigration New Zealand said between 10 August and 26 October, 466 individuals were approved a critical purpose visa for the purposes of travelling to New Zealand as ‘replacement cargo ship crew’. It said 324 of those individuals have arrived in New Zealand and 142 were yet to arrive.

Today marked six straight days of no Covid cases in the community, but health authorities are still questioning how the virus once again slipped through New Zealand’s borders.

It’s the longest run of no new cases in the community since the marine engineer tested positive for the virus on October 16.

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield yesterday announced all close and casual contacts of the engineer had tested negative for the virus.

Overall there had been nearly 40,000 tests since the case was announced.

This was despite two of the man’s colleagues, who also boarded the foreign vessel the Sofrana Surville, testing positive and visiting a range of Auckland venues including Malt Bar in Greenhithe on the Friday evening, along with a gym, bank and several stores.

While the potential for an outbreak would remain until two full incubation cycles after October 16 – 28 days – so far it appears the city may have dodged a bullet that could have potentially plunged it back into lockdown.

Infectious diseases expert Professor David Murdoch said the main takeaway from the rapid containment of the cluster was that the system is working as intended.

“It has been picked up quickly, we’ve managed to find the source – unlike the previous outbreak, there’s been rigorous contact tracing and genome sequencing.”

The fact an infected person had been in a crowded bar on a Friday evening, what could have been a “super spreader” event, and there had so far been no repercussions was not necessarily just luck, Murdoch said.

“Not knowing the exact details, but it appears they’d only been exposed that morning, so that is fairly early on and might be the reason they were not infectious.”

Just two new cases of Covid-19 were announced today, both caught at the border.

Covid-19 rules for ship crew: ‘It’s worse than being in prison’

A ship’s captain is describing the way crew are being treated during Covid-19 as inhumane and like being in prison.Wayne Turner is the Master of Capitaine Tasman

Captain Wayne Turner on board Capitaine Tasman. Photo: Supplied

Crews on ships coming into New Zealand ports are not allowed ashore and must wear PPE gear every time they are on deck.

This also applies to New Zealand crew.

Wayne Turner is the master of Capitaine Tasman, a container ship that sails between Mount Maunganui, Auckland, Noumea, Suva and Lautoka – making a 17-day round trip.

New Zealand, Noumea and Fiji are all countries without community transmission of the virus.

Turner said effectively the crew were in constant isolation.

“You’ve got people that are basically in prison. They can’t depart the vessel, they can’t go for a walk, get fresh air, they can’t get off the vessel.

“It needs to be managed so that people can have those basic human rights, provided that [they] take appropriate action, they need to be able to get off the vessel, stretch their legs, [get] fresh air, change of scene.

“Just the normal stuff you need for psychological wellbeing, it is worse than being in prison,” he said.

Crew were also not allowed ashore in Fiji or Noumea, so they were trapped on board, Turner said.

“We don’t get any leave at all and no visits.

“It is pretty inhumane what seafarers are having to face and for no real reason. It’s a lack of understanding on the part of the powers-that-be as to the real risks that exist, which are negligible, if at all.”

Turner said while crew must wear PPE gear at all times while on the deck in port and can be fined if they do not, stevedores coming on board to load or discharge cargo, do not have to.

“If I go on deck while in port in New Zealand, if Customs see me [not wearing PPE gear] I can be liable for a fine of up to $2000.”

He said all of the 18 crew, including himself, have their temperatures taken twice a day and it is logged.

“We have no contact with the external world effectively.”

Turner said as a New Zealander he had been Covid tested and isolated for the past two months. He was not able to leave the ship nor visit his Mount Maunganui home, family or friends and they could not visit him.

“Home is basically 2-3 kilometres away.”

‘The government is just not interested’

Some other crew members have not been ashore since March.

“It’s pretty inhumane to have been on board from March without having been able to step off the vessel at any stage.”

He said the most crew could do was walk around the deck while at sea and weather allowing, which was frustrating for them.

Turner is concerned about the mental health of his crew and the many others at sea.

“The kind of people that are going to survive this kind of role are well used to that, but not to this degree and I suppose that is the part that is unfair and unreasonable that we are used to being away from our families for months, but you do have the social aspects of being onboard which is walks ashore and time ashore in various ports and all of that, but not having that, it is not good for you.”

When he finally comes to sign-off the ship Turner will need to go into mandatory 14-day isolation, minus the four days at sea sailing from Lautoka, after having effectively been isolated for four months.

Turner said the plight of seafarers during Covid-19 has been ignored by the government mainly because of the small number of people and for the most part foreigners.

“The government is just not interested.”

He is also a solo yachtie and is worried about hundreds of yachts that have been refused permission to sail to New Zealand to avoid the upcoming tropical cyclone season in the Pacific.

“They are as isolated from Covid as we are and they are in areas with no Covid and yet they to cannot come down to New Zealand unless you are on a luxury yacht and you can go alongside at Queens Wharf in Auckland, which is happening currently and so it is one rule for one and a completely different rule for others,” he said.

A spokesperson for Customs says while it enforces Covid-19 restrictions on seafarers, it has no control over changing the rules, which have been set by the Ministry of Health.

The Ministry of Health said due to the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic New Zealand’s maritime border requires the testing, isolation and quarantining of all ship’s crew on arrival into the country.

These requirements for cargo and shipping vessels are similar to many other parts of the world and the master of any ship intending to arrive in New Zealand should, before the ship arrives in New Zealand, take reasonable steps to ensure that every person on board the ship is aware of the isolation or quarantine requirements.

Due to these current Maritime Border requirements which much of the world is operating under, the Ministry of Health encourages shipping companies to review their schedules – which are often on high rotation from port to port – to allow sufficient time for crew to have time on shore once they have achieved a negative result.

Under normal circumstances, a person who arrives in New Zealand on board a ship must remain in isolation or quarantine for at least 14 days on board the ship on which they arrived in New Zealand but this includes time at sea and many cargo ships arriving into New Zealand are long-haul and therefore crew would not be required to sit at port for 14 days.

It said all crew members do need to meet the low risk indicators, including a negative test, before disembarking.

In response to the Ministry of Health, Captain Turner said the guidelines assume vessels are at sea for 14-days or more to achieve isolation. Many ships are on rotations that do not have 14-days between international ports.

Capitaine Tasman calls at Noumea, Suva, Lautoka, Tauranga and Auckland. There are no community Covid cases in New Caledonia or Fiji.

He said no crew member on Capitaine Tasman has had shore leave since March and maximum time at sea is four days so they cannot meet isolation requirements.

Captain Turner said no Covid testing is available to crew members in port except for those at the end of their contract and going home. Crew members wanting to go ashore require 14-days isolation, a Covid test and written MoH approval.

”Maximum time in port is two days, so meeting the requirements is not possible.”

”The Vessel’s crew do not go ashore at any port, so difficult to see how infection can occur,” he said.

Mandatory Covid-19 testing of all ports staff reined in to only ‘high risk’ contacts

Listen

The government has backtracked on plans to urgently test every single person who had come into the Ports of Auckland for Covid-19.

Last week the Ministry of Health issued a mandatory testing order for all workers at the Auckland and Tauranga ports as part of its border blitz.

It had hoped to get all of those workers tested by midnight last night, but only managed to get about a fraction swabbed – 3485 workers as at 1pm today.

The previous order had covered anyone who had come into contact with the port since 21 July – that was more than 5000 people from 800 organisations at the Ports of Auckland alone.

The current order has been narrowed to focus on higher risk workers, such as those dealing directly with ships and ship workers, and anyone with symptoms to be tested.

The Road Transport Forum had opposed the testing of truck drivers saying they came into contact with hardly anyone at the borders, and Ports of Auckland spokesman Matt Ball agreed that it made sense to reign in the testing.

“The scale of the previous order was huge and probably not necessary, given the low and pretty much zero risk for people like truck drivers.”

He said the ministry had now come to grips with how the supply chain at the ports worked and how many people actually interacted with the ports.

Ball said the ports had been asking for testing since April and the government had been slow to respond.

Ongoing testing will now continue at the Ports of Auckland and the Tauranga Port, and Health Minister Chris Hipkins said it was also being rolled out at other ports around the country.

The government still doesn’t know what the source of the latest Covid cluster in Auckland is.

The first case is believed to be a worker at the Americold facility who displayed symptoms on 31 July.

Testing at the borders will continue as health authorities work to figure out any gaps.

Hipkins said he would be issuing two public health orders by the end of the week – one formalising the testing regime for air crew and the other formalising routine testing moving forward.

Covid 19 coronavirus: Auckland and Tauranga port communities caught in mass Covid-19 test order

Ports of Auckland Covid-19 test station has tested more than 1000 people. Photo / File
Ports of Auckland Covid-19 test station has tested more than 1000 people. Photo / File

By: Andrea Fox Herald business writer andrea.fox@nzme.co.nz

The logistics skills of the busy ports of Auckland and Tauranga are being showcased to the max as they respond to out-of-the-blue and fast-changing Ministry of Health directives to ensure urgent Covid-19 testing of all their users and staff.

Both ports say the latest, much expanded, directive, issued on Saturday just hours after director general of health Ashley Bloomfield surprised the sector with an urgent testing order, will affect about 6000 people at each port – but they expect little disruption to operations.

However the Road Transport Forum says the Government’s “panicked reaction” to try to find if freight is the source of the return of Covid-19’s community transmission, is causing “mayhem” at the ports for trucking operators.

On Friday with no warning, Bloomfield ordered “everyone who works at the maritime border” to be tested by 11.59pm on Monday night. Testing applied for all people who worked at ports around New Zealand who might come into contact with ships’ crew.

With testing facilities reportedly scarce or stretched even this was a tall order, but Saturday’s order widened the test requirement to anyone who had worked at Auckland or Tauranga ports since 11.59pm on Tuesday July 21. According to spokespeople for the two ports, collectively that involves about 12,000 people.

Those having to be tested included shipping agents, stevedores, cargo drivers, contractors, suppliers of goods and services, government agency employees and any crew members who may have come ashore.

The ports were to work with their local DHBs and take all practical steps to ensure their constituents were aware of the order. People could be tested at a community testing centre or at a testing centre set up at the port.

Auckland’s port has had a testing facility waterside since Thursday. A spokesman said around 1000 people had been tested over three days.

A Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said the port had set up a testing site for the DHB, but as at Sunday evening there were no DHB testers yet on site.

She said as it was surveillance testing, people without symptoms were not required to wait until they had test results before returning to work.

“Work groups are separated at the moment due to Covid-19 precautions so it would be highly unlikely that any infection would spread far,” she said.

A Maritime NZ notice said a message about the broader testing requirement had been sent to all port companies, stevedoring companies, unions, harbourmasters, agents, organisations representing the marine industry, fishing operators and maritime operators.

The Ports of Auckland spokesman said it was important to note that port workers never directly touched freight, which was handled remotely or by machines. Containers were never opened at the port by workers. The port had had Covid-19 security and restrictions in place since late January, he said.


“Work groups are separated at the moment due to Covid-19 precautions so it would be highly unlikely that any infection would spread far,” a port spokeswoman said.

Covid-19 testing to take place at all ports in New Zealand

After months of urging that ports should be treated like airports for Covid-19 security, New Zealand port companies have been stunned to receive an order from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield for all maritime border staff to be tested for the virus in the next three days.

The ports, through the port companies chief executives group, along with maritime unions, say they have been asking the Ministry of Health since the end of the first lockdown for sea borders to be treated like aviation borders.

Bloomfield’s letter, sent today, said the ministry would work with regional DHBs to provide testing on site “as a matter of urgency”.

“Testing is for all people who work ports around New Zealand who might potentially come into contact with ships’ crew … ” the letter said.

For New Zealand’s biggest port at Tauranga, the order means around 2000 staff and workers must be tested by close of business on Monday.

Ports chief executives’ group spokesman Charles Finny said as recently as two weeks ago the maritime sector had been urging health authorities to test at ports, without success.

A test station has this week been set up at Ports of Auckland. A spokesman said the company had been “dead keen” to see it but the time it has taken for action was frustrating.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said he had been asking for Covid security at the port to be strengthened since April.

Finny understood from port chief executives he had spoken to on Friday that DHBs intended to set up testing systems at ports over the weekend and on Monday.

“We said months ago that ports should be treated like airports.”

Bloomfield’s letter said along with the new testing requirements, border-based employees needed to continue to take daily health checks.

“Thank you again for the important work you are doing to strengthen practices and to increase vigilance at the maritime border, in order to protect your employees and our community from Covid-19,” it concludes.

Concern for merchant sailors stranded in NZ waters

An estimated 300,000 crew on merchant ships have been left stranded at sea around the world by the coronavirus pandemic unable to go onshore – including thousands in New Zealand waters – in what advocates say it’s a ‘humanitarian crisis’.  Crew members from the cruise ship Ruby Princess wave as they depart from Port Kembla, some 80 kilometres south of Sydney, on April 23, 2020, after a few hundred virus-free crew members disembarked to begin the process of repatriation to their home countries. -

Crew on board a cruise ship in May (file photo)

Listen

The Ministry of Transport has now allocated $295,000 to help those stuck in New Zealand ports through the Mission to Seafarers’ organisation. Wellington-based chaplain Reverend Lance Lukin is the Oceania Regional Director for the organisation, he talked to Kim Hill on RNZ’s Saturday Morning about the situation.

Lukin says seafarers are one of the most vulnerable and isolated groups in our society.

“There’s thousands of ships coming in and out of New Zealand ports a year. There’s about 1.5 million seafarers at work at any one time in the world.

“And typically for the lower paid – the able bodied seafarer their contracts are around 9 months long. So at the end of that nine months they will be crew changed in and out. So in any month one twelfth of that 1.5 million seafarers are going through crew changes.”

Those at sea now don’t know when they will be able to get home.

He says the International Transportation Federation has called on all seafarers to go on strike at the end of their contracts if they’re not given shore leave and a crew change.

“If that happens, New Zealand’s economy stops overnight – 120 billion of export comes by ship, 99 percent of trade comes by ship.”

Lukin says seafarer centres operate at each port, manned by volunteers – many who are retirees. The money from the Ministry of Transport will be used to employ more workers so fewer volunteers are needed.

“In this time of pandemic we want to limit the number of people who have acess to ships, but we want to continue to provide that much-needed welfare and support.”

He says many sailors are from China, Philippines and India. But both the Philippines and India have tightened border rules, making it harder for crews from those countries to get home.

[They’re] “desperately wanting to go home, desperately wanting to communicate with their families. We had a ship come into Wellington last week with 18 crew on, 12 of whom are 5 months over the expiration of their contract.

“They should be being paid, but we know globally non-payment of wages is one of the key concerns of seafarers.

“And we’re talking about a pretty low paid workforce anyway. The minimum wage in New Zealand is $18 an hour, for a Filipino sailor the average wage is 90 cents an hour – it’s incredibly dangerous, isolated, high risk environment at the best of times – let alone adding in a pandemic.”No caption

Port of Wellington (file photo). Photo: Mission to Seafarers

Many are still working, but can no longer go ashore.

“There’s about 40 or 50 thousand crew trapped on cruise ships off the coast of the US, and in parts of Indonesia and the Philippines, that can’t get off the ships, won’t be allowed to get off the ships.”

In New Zealand, crews who have been symptom-free for 28 days can go into 14 days of managed isolation if they want to go onshore.

“Given the fact that a ship will enter to the Port of Welllington here today, it will be in port for 8 hours, and it will not be in NZ territorial waters for 14 days – so the likelihood of a seafarer actually being able to get off is next to impossible.

“The reality is apart from the cruise ships right at the beginning and there are no cruise ships now – not one case of Covid has come on a container ship or a logging ship, so we don’t want them to come across our borders and bring Covid – but the reality is they don’t want to come across our borders typically because they don’t want to catch Covid, because they’re going to then get back on that ship and spend 28 days going back to China with no medical facilities on board.”

Most countries test seafarers for Covid-19 when they arrive the border. New Zealand does not, but the Mission to Seafarers is pushing to have it introduced.

Lukin says it could mean seafarers calling at multiple ports would get their results from the test while they still had the opportunity to go onshore.  

“I talked to a seafarer here in Wellington last week who has not physically touched ground for 183 days – you’ve got to think of the mental health implications of that. We know at the best of times that working at sea is a highly risky environment, and the mental health implications are huge. This is a low paid workforce who have limited resources available on board ships.

“Most ships don’t have gyms or recreational facilities, you’re on board for 9 months, and when you come into a port all you want to do is get off, get some fresh air, and most importantly you want to get access to some wifi so you can Facetime and chat with your family back home who you haven’t seen in 9 months – [wifi] is not available on board ships.”Port of Tauranga.

The Port of Tauranga. Photo: Supplied / Port of Tauranga

The Seafarer Centres provid free wifi, and while they’re closed during the Covid pandemic, the organisations’ workers are donning full Protective Personal Equipment and taking portable wifi units onto the ships.

“So that at least for that eight hour period [while they’re in port] seafarers can hotspot and talk to their families.”
 
Lukin says while self-harm and suicide statistics are hard to monitor, there’s anecdotal indications these have increased during the pandemic.

“The best outcome really is that New Zealand honours its obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention – the international bill of rights of seafarers – that they have shore leave, that they have access to welfare facilities that are funded and have competent staff to provide the mental health needs they have right now.

“That’s the basic things they want – firstly to have wifi access, and then they want to be able to talk about all the stuff that’s going on in their own lives that they can’t talk to the shipping agent about – because that’s their employer; they can’t talk to the captain about, because he’s their boss on board; they won’t talk to the government authorities about, because they come from countries where governments are feared, so they want to talk to someone independent – which is why we exist.”

Auckland port keeps shore leave ban for overseas cargo ship crews

Cargo ship crew arriving in Auckland from overseas ports are being told to stay on board their vessel to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19.AUCKLAND - JULY 12 2018:Freight ship in Ports of Auckland. its New Zealands largest commercial port handling more than NZ$20 billion of goods per year

Under alert level 1, crews at sea for more than 14 days who have not declared illness are allowed to disembark, but Ports of Auckland says that’s too risky without health checks. Photo: 123RF

Ports of Auckland banned general shore leave for all seafarers arriving in the city when the country went into lockdown.

Under official rules for alert level 1, crews at sea for more than 14 days who have not declared illness are allowed to disembark with no health checks required.

But port spokesperson Matt Ball said this was too risky and it had asked the Ministry of Health for an assurance health checks will be made.

“They can simply walk out into downtown Auckland. There are no health checks or anything like that.

“It’s part of the international rules around shipping and in normal times it’s perfectly fine but at times like this there is potential, we think, for illness to get across the border so we’ve taken steps in addition to the official advice to prevent that.”

Ball said about 10 cargo ships per week arrived in Auckland, each with up to 20 crew on board, and in the last week there had been several cases of crew members arriving and reporting illness.

There had been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 coming through the port via freighters.

But the fact that crew members were reporting illness showed there must be roots of transmission from another port, with the potential for the illness to incubate for a while and be passed on to crew mates, he said.

“We think this needs to be explored fully to make sure that this route is completely closed off.”

He said the port was waiting on further guidance from the ministry about conducting health checks.

Ports of Auckland banned shore leave for crew arriving from Covid-19 hotspots early this year, and a blanket ban has been in place since the country went into lockdown.

“It’s important for the welfare of these crew that they are allowed to go onshore as long as it’s safe and that’s what we’re concerned about.

“We want to make sure it’s safe for the crew and the community,” Ball said.