Coronavirus: Medics to board Freeport cargo ships to temperature-scan crews

Ship crews to be temperature-scanned after Freeport reaches agreement with port workers •  Medics will board cargo ships to confirm they are contagion-free

The crews of cargo ships entering the Malta Freeport will be examined by medics to confirm they are not carrying the coronavirus, after an agreement was reached to allay the concerns of port workers.

Earlier this week, port workers refused to board ships and handle cargo arriving from Italy due to fears that their crews could be carrying COVID-19, which has in the past days been spreading across Northern Italy.

However, Malta Freeport Terminals CEO Alex Montebello told BusinessToday that the situation had been unblocked and things have now returned to normal, after an agreement was reached for a procedure to be adopted for ships entering the port.

“The new procedure has been implemented and everything is back to normal,” Montebello said. “The arrangement was endorsed by the health authorities and follows established procedure.”

The issue emerged after Malta’s port workers requested that ships be certified as being safe by a doctor in light of the virus having spread in Italy and reached Sicily.

Every ship entering port has to have a declaration from its captain which confirm that there is no contagion on board. The captain’s declaration leads to a free pratique, where clearance is granted in terms of the ship not carrying disease. However, port workers insisted that there be an additional verification by a medical professional at the port that ships crews aren’t sick.

Malta Dockers Union president Ryan Fava confirmed that an agreement had been reached with the Freeport. He said medics from a private company would be boarding the ship and scanning the crew’s temperatures.

“The medic will also sign the captain declaration, to put minds at rest that at the moment the ship’s crew appear to be free of disease,” Fava said.

“As a union, our primary interest is not to cause any disruptions to the industry but to safeguard the interest of port workers, our members. The situation escalated alarmingly due to the spread of the virus in Italy in the past four days,” he said, noting that port workers were alarmed that ships coming from Northern Italy, notably Genoa, could have sea farers on board who could be carrying the corona virus.

“The port workers remarked that Malta airport, catamaran and cruise liner passengers would be scanned on arrival to Malta, cargo ships would not and we would have to depend on the captain’s declaration that nobody is sick,” he highlighted.

“Together with the industry and authorities we wanted to find a system to put port workers’ mind at rest that crew members, sea farers and drivers coming on the ships are being screened in order to control the situation more.”

Following the agreement reached for ships’ crew to be checked by medics, Fava said that efforts were being made to extend the arrangement to all terminals, with the main one being the Valletta Gateway Terminal which welcomes roll-on/roll-off (RORO) vessels.

“I trust that we will reach an agreement to have this common system across the board,” he added.

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