Coronavirus Covid-19: Rio de la Plata leaves Tauranga with an infected crew still on board

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PM Jacinda Ardern and the Minister of the Covid-19 Response on unvaccinated workers at the port of Tauranga exposed to crew members aboard the container ship Rio de la Plata. Video / Mark Mitchell

A container ship struck by Covid-19 has left the coast of Tauranga and is now en route to Malaysia – with infected crew members still on board.

The Rio de la Plata has been anchored off Tauranga for a few days after it was confirmed this week that 11 of its 21 crew members tested positive for Covid.

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Vessel tracking websites, including Vessel Finder, show the vessel has left the area overnight and is due to arrive at Tanjung Pelepas port in Malaysia next weekend.

A spokeswoman for the port of Tauranga confirmed that the vessel left its anchorage outside the port of Tauranga and is on its way to Malaysia.

Despite confirmation that a number of crew members have contracted Covid, authorities say they remain asymptomatic.

The health ministry reported last night that the latest test result for a worker at the port of Tauranga came back negative for the virus.

A total of 110 port workers had to be tested for Covid-19 after potentially being exposed to the virus when the container ship was brought into the port of Tauranga.

The ministry was approached for comment this morning.

Fourth overseas vessel hit in New Zealand waters

The Rio de la Plata, a Singapore-flagged container ship, is the fourth overseas vessel confirmed to have Covid outbreaks as it passed through New Zealand waters in recent months.

The latest vessel affected is the Mattina, in Bluff, which reported positive cases on board last month.

The Spanish-flagged vessels Viking Bay and Playa Zahara have also been affected by Covid in the previous weeks.

The Rio de la Plata left Tauranga and is heading for Malaysia.  Photo / George Novak
The Rio de la Plata left Tauranga and is heading for Malaysia. Photo / George Novak

The Mattina is still in quarantine at a secure berth in Bluff and yesterday morning 13 of the original 21 sailors were still on board the ship, the ministry said.

Five of the affected sailors completed their 14-day isolation period and were released on Saturday. They had consistently returned negative results, health officials said.

Another member of Mattina’s crew was transferred from the boat at a later date and is still in a managed isolation center in Christchurch.

Two other sailors have since been released from hospital and are staying in accommodation organized by the Southern District Health Board.

They continue to be monitored by health workers and are reportedly recovering well.

The connection between the Rio de la Plata, a marine pilot and a Cairns taxi driver

The ship’s departure comes after Queensland health officials yesterday confirmed that an infected marine pilot linked to the Rio de la Plata has the same Delta strain as a taxi driver in Cairns.

The pilot, in his 30s, flew the container ship in Queensland last month.

He got off the ship on July 23 and was taken to Cairns airport by the taxi driver on July 26.

On July 31, the pilot – who is fully vaccinated – began to develop symptoms of Covid and subsequently tested positive for the virus.

The taxi driver, in his sixties and unvaccinated, subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.

Because he had been contagious in the community for 10 days, Cairns was plunged into an instant three-day lockdown.

Health officials continue to call on port workers, their close contacts and members of the Tauranga community to “stay vigilant” and follow all health advice.

“Anyone in New Zealand who has symptoms compatible with Covid-19 should call Healthline (0800 358 5453) for advice on how to get tested.

“Anyone tested should self-isolate at home until they return a negative test.”

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