Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula says new regulations that came into effect on Wednesday, will see all cruise and passenger ships entering South Africa through its sea ports being prohibited from disembarkation.
Briefing the media at the Port of Cape Town on Wednesday, Mbalula said the regulations, which were gazetted on the same day, will assist in strengthening government’s efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This follows President Cyril Ramaphosa’s declaration of the disease constituting a state of national disaster on Sunday.
He said this as government announced that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by 31 to 116.
“The regulations give effect to the prohibition of embarkation and disembarkation of passengers at all the eight sea ports. In terms of these regulations, no passenger vessels will be allowed in our ports,” he said.
The Minister said this after Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) confirmed on Tuesday that two vessels at the Port of Cape Town were held off port.
This as a crew member on board one of the vessels began to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.
“In essence, there is a total ban on cruise ships. This affects all leisure travellers. With effect from today, no cruise ships will be permitted to call into South African ports or will any be allowed to leave our shores,” he said.
Cargo vessels not affected by regulations
Earlier in the day, when President Cyril Ramaphosa convened a meeting of all political parties in Parliament to discuss the country’s response to the pandemic, he along with several opposition leaders, raised their collective concern over the potential effects of the virus on the economy.
Briefing journalists, Mbalula said to minimize the adverse effects of the virus on the economy, cargo vessels docking on the country’s sea ports would not be affected.
“All of our eight sea port operations and cargo handling work will continue.”
“The current regulations and measures do not prohibit trade. Cargo ships will still be allowed to call into our ports to off-load and to on-load cargo. This is to minimize the adverse effects of the virus on our economy and our global trade position,” he said.
Mbalula said the new regulations would prohibit crew changes for all types of vessels, including merchant ships.
“We are aware that in the normal course of ship operations the local ship workers [stevedores and other dock workers] do come into contact with ship crews and this is one point of possible contamination that we have requested port authorities to manage. Personal protective equipment and wear has to also be provided to these workers,” he said.
Temperature screening, improved hygiene
In an earlier media briefing with other political leaders, the President said the regulations would provide for the operating authority to improve hygiene by regular sanitization as a preventative measure to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Mbalula said key staff and those in the front line have to be provided with protective personal equipment and wear.
Temperature screening at sea ports would be heightened.
“The Port Health section of the national Department of Health, has heightened its screening of personnel and individuals with our ports of entry and also at six of the eight sea ports. The screening is important and will be continuous to identify possible cases. Two sea ports that don’t have port health capability are Mossel Bay and Saldahna Bay in the Western Cape,” he said.
Mbalula also said that the regulations would also prohibit the gathering of more than 100 people at a sea port.
“Movement of workers and people also has to managed to limit human interaction and promote social distance,” he said.
Meanwhile, the SA Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has announced that the six passengers who were under quarantine on the German cruise ship, AidAmira, which docked at the passenger port on Friday, have been cleared of the virus after testing negative.
This comes after TNPA confirmed on Tuesday that two vessels at the Port of Cape Town were being held off port limits after a crew member on board one of the vessels began to exhibit symptoms of COVID-19.
The two vessels in question were AidAmira and a cargo vessel, MV Corona.
It was established that the six AidAmira passengers had been on the same flight from Instanbul, Turkey on 9 March 2020 with two cabin crew members on board MV Corona.
The MV AidAmira ship has been operating between Port of Cape Town and Walvis Bay, in Namibia, this cruise season.
The vessel sailed on Friday, 13 March 2020, from the Port of Walvis Bay with 1240 passengers and a total crew of 486 on board.
As a result, the 1240 passengers were quarantined on board the ship while the six were isolated while ports officials awaited their test results.
SAMSA Acting CEO Sobantu Tilayi said tests results have been received.
“We have received the results for those tests and they all have tested negative. The next step is for us to sit and see how do we handle the balance of the people that are on this ship, bearing in mind that this is the last call the ship is making in light of the barring of all cruise operations”.
As Tlilayi made this announcement to the media, loud cheers could be heard a few meters away from passengers on board AidAmira, who caught wind of the news through an announcement by the cruise ship’s crew members.