Captain Arrested in Hong Kong for Providing False COVID Information
Hong Kong police arrested the captain of a Singapore-flagged bulk carrier charging him with providing false information to health authorities when the vessel arrived last month in Hong Kong from Indonesia. The charges come as part of Hong Kong’s efforts to fight a spike in COVID-19 cases, which are being blamed on “imported cases” being brought into China by individuals arriving from outside the country.
In late August, Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection reported a total of 68 cases of COVID-19 in the prior two weeks. All but one of the cases they said were imported cases from overseas. Health Authorities said that the caseload was the highest it had been since April 2021 and that they were fearful of additional cases coming from overseas and in particular workers arriving from the Philippines and Indonesia.
Fifteen of the cases reported at the end of August were linked to a single dry bulk carrier, Singapore flagged Thor Monadic. The Department of Health reported that 15 out of the 23 crew members aboard the bulker tested positive for the virus, including the captain. They were moved to a hospital on shore while the remaining eight crew members were ordered to quarantine aboard the vessel. After the 15 recovered, they were transferred back to the ship and ordered to remain aboard without coming in contact with residents.
The Department of Health reported that it was investigating the Thor Monadic owned by Thorsen Shipping of Singapore and a second vessel, an LNG carrier the Asia Energy that had been in Hong Kong earlier in August. Registered in the Bahamas, the 82,400 dwt vessel was also suspected of failing to report positive cases of COVID-19 when it stopped in Hong Kong but had departed days later. The Department of Health cautioned that knowingly giving false or misleading information to its officers was punishable by a HK$10,000 (approx. US$1,300) fine and up to six months in jail.
Hong Kong Police boarded the Thor Mondic on September 6 to investigate the circumstance around the COVID-19 cases. They searched the vessel for evidence, and the information was presented last week in court. Media reports indicate that the ship’s logs reflected that when the vessel entered Hong Kong waters several crew members had fevers, were coughing, and reporting difficulties breathing. The captain, however, reported to health authorities that the vessel was free of disease and requested a pass.
The 53-year-old captain of the Thor Monadic, a Thai citizen named Ekarat Timwatthana, was brought before a chief judge of the province and charged with committing fraud. They are saying that he knowingly and deliberately provided false information to the Department of Health so that they would approve the vessel’s entry into Hong Kong waters around August 23.
The captain is facing up to 14 years in jail on the increased charges of fraud. He was released on HK$10,000 bail but made to surrender his travel documents. He has to remain in Hong Kong and report three times a week to the police. His case is scheduled to be heard on November 11.
The media in Hong Kong is making the additional accusation that the ship was sent to Hong Kong because of a lack of available medical care in Indonesia. The reports contend that instead of returning to Indonesia, the vessel proceeded to Hong Kong because the crew infected with the virus would receive medical care there.