Hong Kong-flagged ship docked at Port Taranaki in New Plymouth showed how bodies can be recovered from ships following all covid protocols.
A seafarer of the vessel Yangtze Happiness died at sea and specialist research went to great lengths to recover his body from the vessel. The detailed report of the recovery titled “PPE on steroids” has come to the forefront
Seafarer Dies Amidst COVID Suspicion
The seafarer felt some discomfort on his throat while on the bulk carrier which was on its way to New Zealand from Papua New Guinea.
- The 35-year-old was given antibiotics to treat his sore throat problems on June 4.
- However, his condition worsened by June 7 he had a fever.
- He was an engineer from Wuhan China and had visited various ports in the UK, US, and Europe apart from Singapore and the Middle East in the last 9 months.
- Ultimately he expired on June 8 while at sea.
Seafarer’s Room Cleaned & Sealed
Immediately after his death, instructions were given to the vessel’s captain, says the police in charge of the case, Sergeant Terry Johnson. The authorities were constantly in touch with the ship’s crew.
“The room the deceased was in was sealed. He was placed in a HAZMAT body bag and was then located in a chiller on the ship”, said Johnson.
COVID Protocol of Preserving the Body
“Our thoughts at the time was to preserve the body in some kind of shape or form, the best option was to place him in the chiller”, he added
Although the man had other symptoms of skin lesions and ulcers but covid couldn’t be ruled out so precautions were taken accordingly.
The District Health Board had advised to follow the full month of covid precautions on the ship and according to that a specialized rescue team from the disaster victim identification unit was sent.
“They’re very equipped around HAZMAT. They’ve got the proper gear. The PPE is ‘PPE on steroids’, if you know what I mean” , revealed Johnson.
“So… we had a team, which was a team of four, and basically their role was to recover the body. None of the ship’s crew was allowed to leave the vessel.”
3 additional CIB detectives with Ppe investigated the death while the paramedics issued death certificates. The body was taken to a forensic mortuary in Waikato by a hearse.
Some 100 people knew about this operation while this happened.
The Managing Director of Phoenix Shipping, Bill Preston who handled the situation with the vessel owner Wilhelmsen described the situation as surreal.
“I can’t remember exactly how many people were on the wharf but there was quite a few dressed up in PPE gear head to toe. There were certainly a lot of people. I believe that the reason behind it was ’cause it was considered as a crime scene until investigated”, said Preston.
It was a difficult day for everyone concerned, including the crew mates of the deceased seafarer, Preston added.
Post Mortem Reveals Bacterial Infection
The post mortem was identified by Pathologist Dr Michael Dray who revealed that the cause of death was sepsis. It was caused due to the bacterial infection of Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria.
“Typically, this infection arises in people with other illness and compromised immunity. It is uncertain whether this is true of the crew member. It causes a range of infections that include pneumonia, urinary tract infections and sepsis. It is also known to be resistant to the penicillin group of antibiotics.”
Coroner Brigitte Windley who agreed with the pathologist put down the cause of death as natural causes.
Death at Sea Quite Common
Craig Harrison, Maritime Union national secretary termed it as quite common, actually more common than thought.
“A lot of people won’t realise that people do pass away at sea just like people pass away on the job of a heart attack or something like that.
And when you think about the shipping fleet around the world there’s thousands of people employed on a daily basis, so it can happen. I suppose in this case it’s come a bit more under the microscope because of Covid”, said Harrison.
He further added that the present pandemic situations have caused problems on ships.
“Actually there’s been a couple of ships towards the middle of last year in Western Australia that were required to quarantine by the port authorities in Western Australia where they’ve identified on the vessel, so then they’ve made the ship lay up on anchor and they sent out the required medical personnel”, Harrison said.
Local Public Not Informed To Prevent COVID Scare
Meanwhile, Sergeant Johnson was at a loss to explain why the public were not informed of the incident.
Sergeant Johnson explained why the public wasn’t informed, dismissing speculation that it’s an unnatural death. The police refrained from intimidating the public as there was a covid suspicion involved as they didn’t want to scare people.
“Things were not normal, and maybe that media liaison wasn’t there like it is in normal time, but you know we probably didn’t jump on Paritutu [Rock] and yell out ‘hey this is what we are doing’, but we don’t normally do that anyway. But somewhere along the line there may have been a bit of a breakdown in communication with media”, Johnson said.
The whole operation was conducted swifty and was a success as the police could repatriate the seafarer’s belongings to his family in China.