The union representing maritime workers has warned that three foreign ships due to dock in Darwin this weekend are in breach of coronavirus quarantine rules, therefore posing a threat to wharfies and the public.
The warning comes a day after more than 60 wharfies were stood down in Melbourne by their employer, port operator DP World Australia, after they refused to unload a container ship that had been in Taiwan 12 days earlier.
A COVID-19 outbreak on waterfronts could threaten supply chains that provide 98 per cent of Australia's imports, including medical supplies, food, and household goods, Maritime Union national secretary Paddy Crumlin says.
The three container ships due to to dock in Darwin had failed to undertake the 14-day coronavirus quarantine period, the MUA says.
Singapore's Kota Harum is due in Darwin on Friday after leaving Hong Kong eight days ago; Cypriot ship Antung is due on Friday after visiting Indonesia on March 28 and East Timor on April 1; and Liberia-flagged ANL Dili Trader left Singapore on March 25 and is due on Saturday.
"We already know that a failure to enforce biosecurity measures on cruise ships has led to the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in Australia, causing several deaths and hundreds of illnesses," Mr Crumlin said.
"The arrival of these three vessels -- in the most extreme case less than two days after being in a foreign port -- threatens to repeat that debacle by exposing local workers, and through them the broader community, to another outbreak.
"It is outrageous that at a time when people are being told to stay in their homes, to not even take their kids to the park, that the Australian government is continuing to allow foreign vessels to unload in our ports without undertaking a 14-day quarantine period."
The Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the government had been working with the MUA for many weeks and addressing their concerns by sending medical staff on to ships.
"To date, you have seen a clinical presence going on to those ships, talking to the crew, yes, screening them, taking temperatures and that will continue," she said.
"We will continue to do so. I have been speaking to them again this morning hearing their concerns, but we have been providing that clinical assistance.
"We have been covering every border coming into the Territory. We don't have a huge volume of those ships but it is certainly a potential."
Australian Associated Press