Walvis Bay — Fishermen and trade unions have questioned the motives of players in the fishing industry who reportedly backtracked on an agreement to temporarily suspend any crew change involving foreign national seafarers. The agreement stated that no foreign crew change should take place, and affected parties agreed and signed the document, seen by New Era, on 10 April. The parties also agreed to a 14-day quarantine of fishermen before their embarking and disembarking fishing vessels, but 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.
However, the unions and fishermen yesterday raised concern after several crew members were expected to board two vessels despite none of them having undergone Covid-19 tests or quarantine prior to boarding the vessels.
Despite the agreement that there would be no foreign crew change, about 140 foreign crew were expected to arrive yesterday on a chartered plane to join the fishermen and relieve another crew. The incomig crew work for the vessels Namsov and Carapau-1.
A concerned fisherman yesterday told New Era they were told that they would be quarantined on the vessel by the company. He added they were very worried that they would be sharing cabins, which further exposes them to the risk of contracting coronavirus.
"Some of us have underlying health conditions and also come from various households with relatives already testing positive for Covid-19. It would have been better that we were informed earlier to quarantine ourselves," he said.
The harbour town of Walvis Bay has reported over 450 Covid-19 positive cases over the last couple of weeks, while at least 44 seafarers have tested positive.
Tucna president Hango yesterday expressed his disappointment towards some players in the horse mackerel industry that disregarded the agreement and applied to the ministry of health to grant them approval for a crew change. "What was the purpose of the agreement if they went ahead and applied to be able to change their crew. It is issues like this that resulted in 43 fishermen testing positive for Covid-19," Hango said.
Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula granted the industry permission to carry out crew changes in a document signed on 10 June. In his letter, Shangula approved Carapau 1, Jupiter-1 Venus-1, Desert Ruby, Desert Jewel, Mediva Star and Caveman Star to embark and disembark foreign crew on the basis of precautionary measures and testing and 14-day quarantine in line with the health ministry protocols. However, health executive director Ben Nangombe yesterday told New Era that for any plane to land in Namibia, it needs to be cleared and he was not aware of a chartered plane carrying seagoing personnel. "At this stage we do not allow anyone to board any vessel without being quarantined on land for 14 days, before getting on a vessel," he said. He added that he would look into the matter for more clarity. Amukwa also said that he was not informed or aware that any crew change was taking place. He added that as far as the agreement is concerned everyone agreed that no foreign crew exchange should take place. "What is the purpose of the agreement if we do not adhere to it and that is unacceptable?" Amukwa said.
He added that a meeting with relevant stakeholders would take place today to revise the agreement but also pointed out that nothing should actually change as the agreement addresses both the concerns and precautionary measures of all stakeholders.
Meanwhile, Namibia recorded 22 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, bringing the total number to 615.
According to Shangula, 20 of the cases were reported at Walvis Bay, while a contact of a positive case tested positive at Oshakati. The other case was picked up at Lüderitz where a foreign national tested positive for the virus while on a fishing vessel.