Health Ministry concerned about ship boarding process

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By Orville Williams

The Ministry of Health has expressed concern regarding the protocol for the boarding of vessels, amid consultation on the proposed Quarantine Bill 2020.

During the consultation session at the Parliament Building yesterday, Health Minister, Molwyn Joseph, said that in potential quarantine cases, it is imperative for health authorities to be the first to board vessels, to prevent any unwanted exposure.

“This is very important, because even yesterday at a consultation out at Nelson’s Dockyard, we found out routinely, that the first person who board[ed] one of these yachts out there was the agent.

“But in truth and in fact, if we do it right, the first individual to go on a ship is the representative of the Ministry of Health. The reason for this, is that we must ensure that the ship is healthy, in order to protect the other people going on board.

“So, if the health official determines that there [are] conditions on board that pose a risk, then customs officers, agents [and] other individuals should not board the ship – and that is the situation that obtains now,” he explained.

During the session, Chief Health Inspector Sharon Martin noted that with the current protocols, the chief pilot – who is responsible for “greeting” the ship and accompanying it to port – is the first person to board the vessels, followed by the public health inspector.

Minister Joseph, however, insisted that changes to those protocols must be contemplated in the interest of public health and safety.

“We have to review that. I will have to take some advice on that, because even the chief pilot would be exposed. Remember, the chief pilot is there to bring the ship in, so maybe we should take another look to see whether or not the public health person should be the one to assess whether or not the chief pilot should even go in first,” he said.

“Pratique [permission granted to a ship to have dealings with a port, given after quarantine or on showing a clean bill of health] suggests that there is a point where the ship would have to come and present itself and then the pratique is exercised for the ship to come into the harbour. But I think before we decide on what goes in the legislation, we find out whether or not – in protection of everybody, including the chief pilot – health officials should be the first persons to board the ship[s],” Joseph said.

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