1 September 2014

Liberia: NPA Steps Up Security Against Ebola

Authorities at the National Port Authority or NPA have stepped up security and put in place stringent measures to ensure that there is a zero outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus at the port facility. The port facility is yet to record any individual showing symptoms of the virus at its premises.

Bans shore passes

NPA Managing Director Matilda Parker responding to a New Dawn question on Friday after an Ebola respond mock exercise said, as part of the measures the port has banned the issuance of shore passes to vessels crew members except in emergency cases, while at the same time increasing the layers of screening for Stevedorers. Stevedorers are employees who go on vessels to offer janitorial services.

"Now for vessels coming in, we've totally cancelled shore passes," Ms. Parker said adding, "Absolutely, no one from onboard a vessel will be allowed down. The international community has a phobia, so do we in the port. So no shore passes," she stressed.

"For the Stevedorers, Stevedorers that are going on vessels, they (will now) go through three layers of screening: At the gate, at the security desk and also at the pier." Ms. Parker continued, "And they, also going on board do not want to and having been instructed not to have contact with anybody on board."

The NPA boss said the processes put in place are intended to try to safeguard everyone: customers, vessel crew members as well as all employees and other port users. She said port officials have worked over the past one month and a half to put in place policies and procedures for the prevention of Ebola within the port systems.

Other measures put in place by the NPA are, the use of chlorine, bleach handwash/alcohol based hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving

- All staff on NPA buses should wear long pants/long sleeves shirt/blouse; all NPA buses will be sprayed prior to the work day and re-sprayed before departure for any other assignment and at the end of the work day;

-The Transport Officer and drivers reserve the right to NOT allow any employee who appears to show symptoms of the Ebola virus on the buses; The Emergency Response Team (ERT) setup Management must be informed immediately of the incident; All cleaning staff must use rubber/latex gloves, aprons/long sleeves overalls and surgical mask and use chlorine based water solutions for clearing;

-Everybody including employees/contractors/casual workers entering the Port premises will be subjected to body temperature monitoring and or digital temperature testing; and while on the Port premises, if anybody appear to show Ebola like symptoms, he or she must be immediately isolated to the designated areas and call members of the Emergency Response Team.

The rest include the establishment of an emergency health team and isolation of individuals showing Ebola symptoms by the team till the arrival of Ministry of Health officials. These processes and procedures were demonstrated in a mock exercise on Friday to show how prepared the port is in responding to any individual with Ebola like symptom while insisting on zero case record.

The exercises were demonstrated in two parts. The first scenario was of a sick crew member from a foreign country is on a vessel that has docked at the Freeport of Monrovia. The crew is experiencing Ebola related symptoms. The drama shows a rapid respond of coordinated port staffers to pull the suspected Ebola patient out of the port's population to an isolation center before calling in the Ministry of Health team.

The second was of a Stevedorer who had arrived at the Freeport of Monrovia with normal temperature, but was observed to be walking sluggishly heading to the Security desk and into the port. In his initial interview with security he appears to have Ebola symptoms. But following a check it noticed that he had taken in some alcoholic beverages. Thus indicating that not every reddish eye or individual with strange appearances have the virus.

Following the mock exercises Ms. Parker appearing confident said: "Today we enacted the entire process (speaking of the policies and procedures instituted). So we selected scenarios that we felt were risk scenarios and we actually wanted to enact those to ensure that our processes were perfect. So in the event that we did have a case of Ebola here, all of the different stakeholders will know actually what to do."

Since the outbreak of the deadly tropical disease here and despite states issuing travel bans to and from Ebola affected nations, Ms. Parker said the outbreak has not impacted vessel flow here. She said this is so because most of the vessels docking at the port were well on their way before the outbreak and various bans. She said the impact will be assessed in September.

Meanwhile the Liberian Maritime Authority or LMA has also put up what it called a Marine Advisory. LMA boss Binyan Kessely told the New Dawn Friday that the measures are in support of the what the NPA is doing.

"What we have put up is in support of what she(NPA boss) is doing at the Port here-it is a Marine advisory letting all vessels know outside of the jurisdiction of Liberia that as you enter the Liberian territorial waters these are expectations at the minimum. The NPA expectation goes much further than what we have established," he said.

"We set the basic threshold on where you should operate. The NPA as a facility itself will tell you what is allow and what is not allow," Mr. Kessely added.

"We believe that the port is safe, vessel traffic has been maintained. I think the message that should go out is that the NPA has put stringent guidelines in place, that safe guard all port users: employees, visitors, crew members etc," Kessely said.

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