It has now been confirmed that a passenger on the Voyager of the Seas cruise ship which visited Aneityum on the 11th of March has tested positive with the COVID-19 virus upon arrival in Sydney.
One question that should be asked is who allowed the ship to berth off Aneityum, when it was denied entry to Port Vila after it was alleged that passengers had developed flu-like symptoms?
The Daily Post had the opportunity to speak to the Office of the Maritime Regulator and the Habour Master of Port Vila and this is what they had to say.
Office of the Maritime Regulator
The Maritime Regulator Kembro Manderson says OMR are only a regulator and only deal with safety and the legal side of the maritime sector.
Mr Manderson also says the news of the Australian passenger testing positive to COVID-19 came later through an Australian Defence attache to the Vanuatu Police Maritime Wing.
He says they have issued a warning stopping all ships from sailing to Aneityum.
Legal Officer to the OMR, Llyod Fikiasi says the issue was caused by miscommunication between the ship captain and the national task force. Mr Fikiasi says they received instructions from the now dissolved task force.
Fikiasi says the Voyager of the Seas was refused entry to berth in Port Vila and told to leave Vanuatu waters, however the ship somehow diverted to Aneityum instead and though the crew were told to leave Vanuatu waters they anchored off Aneityum and the passengers disembarked.
South Sea Shipping are the agent for the cruise ships in Vanuatu which are scheduled to visit Vanuatu, however Fikiasi says they have no power to over-ride the government and bypass any bans which are in place.
Mr Fikiasi says the Habour Master would have advised the ship not to go to Aneityum.
Department of Ports and Harbour
Port Vila Deputy Harbour Master Wio Mandersen says up to this week he has no idea who authorised the cruise ship to go to Aneityum. Deputy Mandersen says South Sea Shipping were informed that the ship was denied entry into Port Vila.
Port Vila Harbour Master John Nasak says the crew of the Voyager of the Seas went against orders and went ashore on Aneityum. Captain Nasak was not aware of this and also not aware of the passengers disembarking the ship and going ashore on Aneityum.
Captain Nasak says as Harbour Master, he only controls the Ports of Port Vila and Lenakel on Tanna. Aneityum is a declared port for international cruise ships, however there is no permanent habour master stationed there making it difficult to control that port of call.
John Tonner, CEO of South Sea Shipping was involved with the then national Coronavirus Task Force when this incident occurred.
Investigations are currently underway on how South Sea Shipping side-stepped the ban and gave the ship’s crew approval to go to Aneityum despite there being a national ban on international cruise ships.
In other related news, MV Touaraken 1 returned arrived from Tanna in Port Vila, last Saturday. The vessel had visited Aneityum before returning to Port Vila while briefly stopping on Tanna.
Captain Nasak says they had only received news of this man who tested positive to COVID-19 after MV Touraken arrived in Port Vila, therefore they could not quarantine the vessel’s crew and passengers, like they quarantined the Solomon Islands patrol boat, Auki.
At this stage there are no suspected or confirmed cases in Vanuatu.
However, on March 9 the Coronavirus Task Force was still allowing cruise ships being brought in by South Sea Shipping but advised the company not to bring in diverted vessels.
The COVID-19 national operation has since been handed to the National Disaster Management Office and the task force dissolved.