Belgian Officials Investigate COVID-19 Outbreak Aboard Product Tanker

Port of Antwerp (Steven Lek / CC BY 4.0)

Published Jun 28, 2020 3:20 PM by The Maritime Executive

Belgium's Agency for Maritime Services and Coast (MDK) is investigating the circumstances behind the coronavirus outbreak aboard the product tanker Minerva Oceania, which has 15 confirmed cases on board at the port of Antwerp. The pilot who guided her into port also tested positive for the disease on Friday, and a second pilot who was aboard the ship has tested negative.

"We are asking serious questions about how the situation has gone and about the number of infections," a spokesman for MDK told local media. "We doubt that the captain's health declaration has been completed in good faith."

According to local outlet GVA, the Flemish pilots' association has also expressed concern about the risk to its members and the timeliness of the notification of an onboard outbreak. 

The Minerva Oceania's operator asserts that the vessel's master reported the first case of COVID-19 symptoms on board as soon as it occurred - one day after the vessel arrived in port. “We have taken note of the complaint and respect the decision of MDK. We hope that everyone with health problems, both our own crew and the pilot, will recover soon," a spokesperson for the operator told HLN. 

The Minerva Oceania arrived in Antwerp June 19 on a voyage from Qatar. She is currently in quarantine and will remain in place until at least July 4. 

Minerva Oceania is not alone in contracting COVID-19 on board. Though it remains relatively rare aboard merchant ships - which spend much of their time at sea and isolated from sources of infection - other cases have occurred. The U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed boxship Maersk Idaho has 10 confirmed cases amongst her crew, including nine asymptomatic cases. She is currently anchored off Newark.

“Pursuant to a plan approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the USCG, as well as other state and local authorities, Maersk Line Limited will soon begin evacuation of the current crew to a quarantine facility, sanitizing the vessel, placing a new crew on board, and commencing the port call to conduct cargo operations,” operator Maersk Line Limited said in a statement Friday.