COVID-19 stricken ship from India arrives in Philippines

The M/V Athens Bridge (left), a cargo vessel with a dozen Filipino seafarers infected with COVID after a port call in India, is anchored off Sangley Point in Cavite last Thursday.
DOTR, PCG images

MANILA, Philippines — A Panama-flagged container vessel that stopped in India, with 12 of 21 Filipino crewmembers testing positive for COVID-19, was allowed to anchor off Sangley Point in Cavite City last Thursday after a request for “immediate medical evacuation.”

Two of those found positive are in critical condition and were rushed to an undisclosed facility while the 10 asymptomatic patients were brought to a hospital in Manila before 5 p.m. yesterday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said.

The rest of the crew remain on board the vessel that is under close watch to prevent the spread of the virus, which could be the virulent “double mutant” Indian variant B.1.617, in the Philippines.

“Ten crewmembers were extracted and brought to the hospital. They are all asymptomatic. They were extracted from the vessel, rode a tugboat and then an ambulance going to the hospital. They were allowed to disembark to prevent the spread of infection in the vessel,” said PCG Commander Michael Andag.

The M/V Athens Bridge docked in India and left on April 22. It sailed to Haiphong, Vietnam where the crewmembers were refused entry after arriving on May 1.

Andag said it was in Vietnam where all 21 crewmembers underwent RT-PCR tests.

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He said Vietnamese authorities barred the Athens Bridge crew from disembarking after 12 were found positive for COVID, to avoid the spread of the virus in that country.

This prompted the vessel’s captain to sail to the Philippines in hopes of getting help, Andag pointed out, noting that all of the ship’s crew are Filipinos.

A report from the National Task Force Against COVID-19 said the request for immediate medical evacuation came after the two critical patients had breathing difficulties and that only one bottle of oxygen was left for them to use.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH had submitted their swab samples to the Philippine Genome Center for whole genome sequencing to determine if they were carrying the new variants of COVID-19. ?In a statement, the PCG said the MV Athens Bridge was allowed to dock in Cavite City after it secured clearance from the Bureau of Quarantine and Department of Health.

“They asked clearance from the BOQ since the vessel is suspected, probably of an Indian COVID-19 variant, because their last port was India and traveled to Vietnam where they underwent the RT-PCR test,” Andag explained.

Sufficient security personnel, he added, were deployed to ensure that no unauthorized vessels or motorized bancas will approach the COVID-hit container vessel.

The nine crewmembers who tested negative for COVID-19 and who remain in the vessel are required to undergo RT-PCR test on their fifth day of stay in the country.

Andag said the Filipino crew and the vessel will be allowed to leave the country once they are cleared.

The PCG is closely coordinating with other maritime attached agencies of the Department of Transportation to ensure that health and safety protocols will be followed throughout the entire process as far as treating the COVID-19 patients is concerned.

Meanwhile, 12 more Filipinos abroad died of COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 1,159, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reported yesterday. It also logged 45 new cases and 27 new recoveries.

The number of confirmed cases stood at 18,524 as of yesterday, while the number of Filipinos overseas who recovered from the disease reached 11,333.

The DFA said a total of 6,032 are still undergoing treatment. – Sheila Crisostomo, Helen Flores

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