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Australian miners seek alternatives to Manila for crew as repeat Covid flare-ups hit Port Hedland

A second Filipino crewed bulk carrier in the space of just over a fortnight calling Port Hedland in Western Australia has arrived with multiple Covid-19 cases onboard, sparking calls from politicians and miners to avoid sourcing crew from Manila.

Seven crew on the Vega Dream tested positive for Covid-19 on a vessel off the coast of Port Hedland. The ship is controlled by Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) with crew provided by Manila-headquartered Magsaysay.

It’s disappointing and obviously we don’t want it to happen again

Meanwhile, the Patricia Oldendorff bulk carrier set sail on Sunday after 18 of the 21 crew recovered from a coronavirus outbreak late last month.

Both ships arrived in Western Australia from the Philippines.

Western Australia’s health minister Roger Cook commented today: “This is the second time in a fortnight that we have had an issue at Port Hedland with a vessel from Manila. It’s disappointing and obviously we don’t want it to happen again.”

Cook said he had spoken to Western Australia’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) and the major mining companies had said they are reviewing whether or not to use crews from Manila.

A spokesperson for the chamber told Splash: “CME is aware some member companies are talking to their shipping agents about the possibility of sourcing shipping crews from ports other than Manilla. The logistics of these potential changes are still being investigated.”

MOL, meanwhile, issued a release today providing some details of the crew on the Vega Dream.

“All crew members have boarded in compliance with the Department of Transportation in the Philippines, Protocol for Crew Change and Repatriation as well as being quarantined and tested negative in the Philippines prior to joining the vessel,” the Japanese owner claimed.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. This is devastating for the Philippines manning business and for all Filipino seafarers. I think we can start from the position that Oldendorff, Mitsui OSK and Magsaysay are corporations whom we are inclined to put some trust in. These are not spivs and chancers but large, long established, businesses, with a lot to lose.

    Plainly, the same cannot be said of the Philippines Government organisations responsible for administering tests for the virus.

    We may be looking at the end of Filipino seafarers.

    1. Hi Andrew. It is disappointing as well as devastating. None seems to be learning lessons during this difficult time.

      It is a shame because Mitsui OSK and Magsaysay are very big players who also seem to have a big Say in maritime affairs in the Philippines. How is this continuing to happen? And if this can happen with the biggest players, I dread to think of what is going on with other and lesser crewing agencies in the Philippines. Many a question to be answered by MARINA, DoH et al.

    2. i think the issue is the reliability of the the i read the test conducted in hedland was rapid testing known for non reliability.all seafarers undergo swab test before joining.or the vessel was already covid infected vessel.

    3. Your opinion was much appreciated but accusation gone too far.You should try to think in various angle of whats really happens.Prior to joining the ship they surely passed many crowded people,what if one of them got covid as they gone that long joining process e.g;transporting,hotel stay or even while eating in some resto.
      Its baseless to say that manning or even DoH not doing there jobs for the sake of seafarers individual health.Especially standard protocol to minimized covid19 spread.
      Just saying..

  2. Australian sailors have an iron health. But they have not jobs. What if Australia changes its atrocious maritime policy and takes personal care of its people, its sailors and its ships?

  3. “All crew members have… tested negative in the Philippines prior to joining the vessel,” Curious to know how they become positive during the voyage. Stopped for bunkers or had surveyors onboard?

      1. Andrew is absolutely correct. The RT-PCR is the global standard for covid-19 testing and should be the industry standard as well. It is more expensive in Manila (about 4,500 pesos now) and with a longer wait period of about a week compared to the much-maligned rapid test. During the pandemic period, the industry can require that test details for crew be posted online for advance notice by proper authorities, same as certificates. The ISPS log and the covid test log should, in theory, provide traceability.

        1. Thanks Lito,

          I hope all concerned note what you have posted here; clear and practical recommendations.

  4. We have recently sent 20 workers in to Africa from Clark. We had no problem and the difference will be because we isolated and quarantined the guys before testing after testing and right up to hand delivering to the airport.

    I can guarantee you Magsaysay wouldn’t have done this. The guys would have been roaming around Manila prior to boarding the vessel.

  5. Things shoild have been consoder by the owner of the cargo ship, dis-infect the ship prior for its crew to get in, crew should have PPE, and wear mask ang face shield in the ship and of course social distancing be practice…

  6. To many Australian seafarers out of work why can’t these companies go back to looking after Australian crew for there ships greatly trained crew who have the experience to do a great job.

  7. This is not devastating to just Filipino seafarers rather to the world shipping industry as a whole and to those industries, businesses and people who directly and indirectly rely on it. Wait thats almost everything and everyone. Before we point fingers and arrogantly state they are better should be thankful instead that this didnt happen to you as there are no conclusive conditions about covid19 in all its aspects. We should see this as our problem regardless of nationality and we find solutions together. In this way we overcome this pandemic or adjust to the new normal intelligently. Filipino seafarers make up the majority of mariners worldwide for a reason and do you think this can be changed overnight without repercussions. Be cool and composed and rise up to the occassion to be part of the solution and not the problem.

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