Legal action seeks immediate release of detained Darwin wharfies as COVID tests clear seafarers on vessel involved

Legal action seeking the immediate release of 13 Darwin wharfies from the Howard Springs quarantine facility will be heard tomorrow, after COVID testing cleared all seafarers onboard the container ship at the centre of the alleged biosecurity breach at the Port of Darwin.

An interlocutory application by container terminal operator LINX, which employs the detained workers, will be heard at 10am tomorrow by Judge John Neill in the Northern Territory Local Court in Darwin.

The company is challenging the directions issued by NT Health which forced terminal operations to grind to a halt and is seeking the immediate release of their workers from Howard Springs.

The court case comes as independent COVID testing of all seafarers onboard the container ship Tacoma Trader, arranged by the vessel’s operator, cleared the crew.

Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Adrian Evans said the crew’s test results confirmed that the detention of wharfies by NT Health had been a massive overreaction.

“We now know the reason NT Health refused to undertake COVID tests of the crew of the Tacoma Trader was because they knew that testing would expose the fact they had made a massive error in locking workers up in Howard Springs,” Mr Evans said.

“The crew of the vessel have finally been tested for COVID nearly a week after arriving in Darwin, with that only happening because of the insistence of the vessel operator that they be allowed to arrange independent testing of their workers.

“These tests confirm that there is no one on the vessel infected with COVID, there is no risk of transmission from that vessel to Australian waterfront workers, and there was never a biosecurity breach that put the Territory community at risk.”

Mr Evans said the union would be giving evidence in the NT Local Court tomorrow, in support of the legal application from LINX, seeking the immediate release of the detained workers.

“NT Health locked 13 people up without due process, for reasons they still can’t explain, and tomorrow’s hearing will seek to overturn that decision and allow these workers to return home to their families,” he said.

“We believe there has been a significant bureaucratic bungle, with our members left to pay the price as NT Health attempts to save face despite mounting evidence that there was no biosecurity breach.

“This case is about more than our 13 members, it’s about ensuring there is consistency and transparency in the NT’s COVID response so other local workers aren’t caught up in a similar situation.

“NT Health decided, without warning, that the work practices and PPE that have been effective at stopping any spread of COVID through the Port of Darwin suddenly weren’t good enough, but rather than address those issues through consultation, they just threw people in detention.

“The result of this situation is that port operations have ground to a halt, the Tacoma Trader still hasn’t been unloaded, and there is significant uncertainty about how goods can be moved through the Port of Darwin to the community going forward.

“The NT Government needs to step in and clean up this mess before the actions of NT Health cause further significant economic damage to the Territory.”

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