At Redi village on the Sindhudurg coast, where the livelihood of a majority of its population of 5,500 is dependent on the Redi port, the arrival of a Singapore flag bulk carrier led district authorities on Friday distribute over 200 N95 masks to local residents amid the coronavirus scare.
The cargo ship, Nathan Brandon, arrived at the port on February 5. While it had travelled to Singapore, Indonesia, South Africa and UAE since last August, sources said that rumours about Chinese crew members being on board led the local residents, many of whom work as loaders and crane operators at the port, refuse to take part in the ship’s iron ore loading operations.
The ship is anchored over an hour away from the port, said Customs Superintendent Abhijit Bhise. None of the crew members, whose nationality is unclear, have been allowed to come ashore. While civil surgeon D Chakurkar and Dr Pradeep Awate, a Pune-based epidemiologist who is monitoring coronavirus in the state, said there were no Chinese crew members in the ship, Bhise claimed all 22 crew members were Chinese.
Bhise added that the ship was to leave for China after the loading was completed. “We are waiting for a final clearance from the authorities tomorrow. Then the ship will be permitted to start loading,” he said.
“Since most of those working at the port are residents of neighbouring villages, information spread that the crew members were Chinese. The vessel had got a medical clearance for all its crew members when they left from the Mumbai port two days ago,” he added.
The Redi Port Limited and the Maharashtra Maritime Board also stepped in at the insistence of the local residents. While usually doctors of the shipping agents, who manage the crew, check the members at the time of leaving the port, the authorities this time informed the district collectorate.
The port officials also deployed a private doctor to screen the crew. Dr Mohan Jagtap from Redkar Hospital and Research Centre visited the cargo ship on Friday to screen crew members for cough, cold or respiratory illness — the classic symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus. He reported no suspected cases.
Sindhudurg district health officer Dr Mahesh Khalipe said the crew members neither have any symptom to suggest they suffer from coronavirus, nor did they report history of contact with any infected person. “None of them require isolation,” Khalipe added.
Later, the civil surgeon and collector held a meeting and decided to send government doctors from the rural hospital again to check the crew members. “The situation is under control. We have sent a medical team to create awareness about the virus,” said Collector K Manjulaxmi.
All major ports are conducting thermal screening to detect suspected coronavirus cases. As per the latest directions by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, no ship is allowed to dock at a minor port without undergoing screening at a major port. Minor ports are yet to start thermal screening.
Redi, which is a minor port, does not have an attached health facility. During previous viral outbreaks, private doctors would conduct medical examination for crew members of ships to assist the port authority. Redi village sarpanch Ramsing Rane told The Indian Express: “We did not want to take any risks. Health is of utmost importance. So, we wanted to be doubly sure about the crew. We want this kind of scrutiny for all ships.”
Dr Archana Patil from the Directorate of Health Services said the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust at Navi Mumbai is screening passengers and crew from China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.
“Our health officials in Redi are trying to provide scientific information to villagers. If they understand how the disease is transmitted, they will not feel scared. Also, this is a cargo ship, so the risk is low.”
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