Crew onboard livestock carrier docked in Western Australia test positive for COVID-19

The vessel Al Messilah is currently docked in Western Australia.
The vessel Al Messilah is currently docked in Western Australia. Photo credit: Vessel Finder

More than two dozen crew members on a livestock carrier docked at Fremantle Port in Western Australia have tested positive for COVID-19.

The vessel Al Messilah - which flies under the flag of Kuwait - was due to begin loading stock but that has now been delayed, with the crew expected to be evacuated from the boat and put into hotel quarantine, reports 9News Australia.

One crew member had already been diagnosed with COVID-19 and removed from the ship, but further testing on Monday revealed another 24 people onboard also had the virus.

The outbreak on the ship comes after a contractor working on a vessel in the Ports of Auckland tested positive for the virus on Saturday.

Twenty-one close contacts of that man currently remain on a ship anchored off Napier's coast.

The positive test led to calls from the Maritime Union here for the crew of foreign vessels to be tested before they dock at ports in New Zealand.

Animal rights group SAFE said the outbreak on the livestock vessel in Australia is further proof New Zealand needs to permanently ban live exports.

"We have worked too hard to stamp out COVID-19 in our community to risk compromising that success by continuing with such a cruel trade," SAFE campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald said on Tuesday.

The Government placed a temporary ban on live cattle exports after the sinking of Gulf Livestock 1 in September, which disappeared in the South China Sea after leaving Napier bound for China. The ship had 43 crew members onboard, including two New Zealanders, and was carrying almost 6000 cattle.

As well as putting in place the temporary ban, the Ministry for Primary Industries also launched an independent review by Mike Heron QC into the assurances it receives for the transport of livestock by sea.

Prior to Saturday's election, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor signalled there would be a partial reversal of the ban if his party was voted back into power.

O'Connor said the rules around exports would be relaxed partially after October 23.

"Given the Heron advice, the director-general of agriculture will be in a position (after that date) to make calls on whether animals can be moved offshore," he said at the time.

"But it will be conditional, it will not be going back to where it was, and there may be changes in those conditions."

Animal rights groups have long called for live cattle exports to be banned. Last year the Government commissioned a review of the practice but a decision was held up due to COVID-19.