A New Zealand fishing industry leader is concerned two Spanish-flagged fishing vessels infected with Covid-19 could tarnish the good name of the New Zealand seafood industry.
This week 16 crew onboard the Spanish-flagged vessel Playa Zahara, and 15 on board the Viking Bay vessel were confirmed as having Covid-19.
Viking Bay berthed in Wellington earlier this week and infected crew members were transferred to an onshore managed isolated facility.
Playa Zahara is en route to Lyttleton after being denied entry at Taranaki port.
George Clement, chief executive of Deepwater Group, a cooperative that represents quota holders in New Zealand's fishing industry, was concerned about how the Covid-19 cases could affect the reputation of New Zealand seafood.
"Different countries have different reputations for management of seafood. New Zealand internationally is one of the best," he said.
"On this particular issue, my concern is that the public would see this as another negative anti-fishing story."
"It's unfortunate that the vessel – which is being treated more or less as a merchant navy vessel - is a fishing vessel, but it's nothing to do with the New Zealand fishing industries.
"They don't fish in New Zealand waters, they fish outside."
New Zealand fishing and seafood industries also enjoyed the reputation of being Covid-free as well as sustainable.
"We managed to be Covid-free through working carefully with the Government and working diligently to make sure that our protocols are actually effective," Clement said.
"I'm not being critical of any of those sailors or fishermen on those boats. Nobody wants to get Covid – it's unfortunate and it's easy to catch."
"But I just wouldn't want to see fishing boats in New Zealand with crew infected with Covid linked to the New Zealand seafood industry where that's not the case."
He also questioned why the infected crew members needed to be brought ashore.
The Viking Bay vessel berthed in Wellington earlier this week. Photo / Supplied
"Most of the ports around the world, including in New Zealand have designated quarantine stations, and this has been done for good reason," he said.
"Why aren't these people being quarantined offshore in their boats where there's no risk of that variant getting into the New Zealand citizenship?"
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said quarantining or isolating vessels offshore was an option only when positive cases could be separated from other crew members, and there was low risk of an evacuation needed.
"The health assessment is that Covid-19 cases from both the Viking Bay and Playa Zahara are best managed at an on-shore quarantine facility," they said.
The public health risk from the Covid results was considered to be low, and secure transport was used to move people from maritime vessels to quarantine and isolation facilities, said the spokesperson.
"It's also important to stress all staff coming into contact with these crew members are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and will be closely following strict infection prevention control measures," they said.
They said standard infection prevention measures and control protocols were used, including the use of PPE, and all mariners were required to comply with full protection control.
Ministry of Primary Industry fisheries compliance national manager Niamh Murphy also said the choice to bring the crew-members onshore was not uncommon.
"From time to time, a high-seas vessel may notify the New Zealand Government that it needs to use a local port to reprovision, change crew, or for unforeseen circumstances," Murphy said.
"This is common international maritime practice."