By Nick Truebridge for RNZ
The Government has quietly established a transfer zone for foreign shipping crew in a busy commercial area in Auckland.
The set-up has been attacked by a public health expert as a sign New Zealand is not taking the highly infectious Covid-19 Delta variant seriously.
And the operation is in place despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressing concern about the continuation of some crew transfers.
The arrangement involves shipping crew being transferred from international flights, or a short MIQ stay, to a shed at Tamaki Marine Park, before being ferried to ships waiting out at sea.
The facilities used at the marina require a deep clean after each crew is processed, as does the boat used to ferry them to vessels waiting offshore. Workers involved in the process are now considered border workers and require vaccination.
The processing site at Tamaki Marine Park appears relatively nondescript, comprising a shed at the top of a quiet jetty. Officials say the shed lets Customs process crew under shelter and to protect their privacy.
The shed has been approved, despite comments by Ardern last month.
“If the fishing crew is linked to New Zealand in some way, if they are processing in New Zealand, then of course we would treat them differently,” she said.
“If, however, they’re a foreign-flagged vessel that is fishing offshore New Zealand, has no connection to New Zealand I’m asking for Crown law advice as to whether or not we can remove their ability to recrew from New Zealand.
“Because I see no need for us to take unnecessary risk for a foreign vessel where there is no benefit to New Zealand whatsoever.”
Those comments were made after two fishermen, who were driven from Auckland Airport to Taranaki last month, tested positive for Covid-19.
Officials dubbed the public health risk low, but three involved in the transfer had to isolate.
The Prime Minister’s office told Checkpoint Crown law’s advice on foreign fishing crews was imminent.
Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) joint head Brigadier Rose King said people working in the marine park area, who had contact with the mariners, were now considered border workers and had commenced the vaccination programme.
But officials are yet to confirm whether staff now working at this makeshift east Auckland port have been vaccinated.
Otago University professor Nick Wilson told Checkpoint the entire set up looked a little shabby.
“It’s definitely far, far from ideal,” he said.
“It’s another sign that New Zealand’s not really taking the situation with the new Delta variant at the appropriate, extremely high level of rigour.
“It’s very disappointing that these problems keep being failed to be really, properly addressed.”
The transfer process at Tamaki Marine Park must be carried out meticulously to avoid any risk of transmission, Wilson said.
“The ideal is to have good ventilation at all points in the movement, from the aircrafts to right until they leave New Zealand on a boat.
“But also that there’s good and highly consistent wearing of masks by the crew members and all the border staff interacting with them.
“But, really, the ideal is also, as well as those precautions, to add in a requirement for vaccination before they leave their source country.”
Another issue is location. Tamaki Marine Park is surrounded by a bustling commercial area.
The marina itself was worked by many staff, which Wilson said was problematic.
“Just like having hotels in the … Auckland business centre used for quarantine, I mean this is still so far from the ideal of having quarantine facilities that are built outside a city, such as Howard Springs in Australia, that are all separate units,” he said.
“We know how transmissible the Delta virus is.”
Checkpoint has been told workers at nearby businesses and at the site itself have not been vaccinated or contacted about vaccinations.
The operations manager at the marine park declined to comment when asked if his staff had been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, King said the jetty being used was fenced off from the public and the transfer boat from jetty to ship would operate in accordance with infection prevention and control requirements.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it had been visiting ports around the country to discuss the amended Vaccinations Order.
It did not say how many workers at the specific location have been vaccinated, or whether they have been vaccinated at all.
The ministry said 90 per cent of those on the Border Workforce Testing Register have had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
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