Port Security Conference

May 5, 2003

SARS scare ship to leave Hong Kong
The Malaysian-registered Bunga Melawis Satu, with all 24 crew members including the shipmaster, will leave Hong Kong waters at 6.30pm today (May 5).

The ship had been granted leave to enter Hong Kong after reporting a number of crew members were experiencing symptoms similar to those of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

The freighter, like all other vessels, will depart Hong Kong after the necessary port clearance procedures are verified, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Marine Department said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said that as a quarantine order for all the crew members had been lifted, the vessel was free to leave Hong Kong.

The freighter entered Hong Kong waters and anchored to the east of Kau Yi Chau yesterday morning (May 4).

Ten crew members who claimed to be ill were sent to Princess Margaret Hospital for treatment and observation. The vessel was then thoroughly disinfected. The crew members were discharged from hospital and sent back to their vessel last night after they were found to be in good health.

The incident began on the aftrenoon of May 2 when a Marine Department received a call from a local shipping agent on May 2 afternoon seeking permission for a Malaysian-registered freighter with some sick crew members on board to enter Hong Kong waters.

The freighter was on its way from Thailand to Huangpu in Guangdong. It was reported that the vessel set off from Map Ta Put in Thailand on April 28. The ship master sought assistance because 10 of the 24 crew members had fallen ill with symptoms of fever, cough and aching joints.

Having considered the request, the Marine Department asked the master to head for the nearest port or to carry on with its journey to its original destination, Huangpu. However, the master made another request to come to Hong Kong.

Taking into account the fact that the freighter had sick crew members on board and Hong Kong's obligations under Article 41 of International Health Regulations, the Hong Kong Government decided to allow the vessel to enter Hong Kong waters.

At a press briefing before the ship's arrival in Hong Kong, the Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Mrs Carrie Yau, said the authorities would take a series of quarantine and precautionary measures to protect healthcare staff and others involved in the operation from being infected.

These included:

  • issuing of an order by the Director of Marine for the freighter to be anchored in a designated anchorage to the east of Kau Yi Chau so as to facilitate quarantine and isolation measures;

  • sending all crew members with symptoms of illness to Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) for treatment;

  • keeping other crew members with no symptoms of illness under quarantine on board the vessel for 10 days;

  • cleansing and disinfecting the vessel thoroughly;

  • keeping sick crew members in a separate ward from local patients, and equipping all medical workers looking after the crew with sufficient protective gear.

Mrs Yau said all the staff in the operation would be dressed in proper protective gears, adding that all the vessels and ambulances being used to transport the sick crewmen would also be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected.

Also speaking at the press briefing, the Director of Health, Dr Margaret Chan, said the symptoms described by the ship master might also be applicable to other forms of illness including influenza, local medical workers had to conduct clinical inspection and examination before coming to a proper diagnosis of the illness.

"We need to be vigilant to ensure that we have taken all the necessary precautions to prevent our medical personnel and other staff involved from being infected.

"As there is a possibility that the crewmen may be infected by SARS, we will issue an order to isolate all the remaining crewmen on board the vessel for a period of ten days.

"During the period of isolation, the local shipping agent of the vessel will be responsible for the daily upkeep and provisions of the entire crew. We will monitor the health conditions of the crewmen and provide them with health advice.

"We will also issue guidelines for disinfection so that the local shipping agent may conduct a thorough disinfection of the vessel. After the expiry of the isolation period or if the crewmen are not infected by a disease which requires isolation of close contacts, the vessel may leave Hong Kong.

"As the sick crewmen are not Hong Kong residents, we have informed the shipping agent that it will have to pay the full cost of their medical treatment in Hong Kong."

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