There have been 23 recorded cases of Covid-19 among the crew of HMAS Adelaide, which left Brisbane on Friday to deliver humanitarian aid to virus-free Tonga.
The wife of a crew member said she only found out about the outbreak after Defense Secretary Peter Dutton appeared on Sky News this morning, with the line to communicate with the ship cut off just before it appeared.
Dutton announced the outbreak on Sky News on Tuesday morning, saying the government was working with Tongan authorities to keep the boat at sea and ensure there was no threat to the Pacific nation.
“They desperately need the help but they don’t want the Covid risk,” the minister said. “We will work on all of this as quickly as possible.”
There are over 600 crew members on board.
Dutton said aid had already been sent via C-17 planes and contactless delivery remained an option.
“We are not going to endanger the people of Tonga,” he said.
He added that it was about balancing the rapid delivery of aid to the ravaged nation and not exposing the vulnerable population to Covid.
“It could mean [the ship] is able to dock and we provide that support and then we move on,” he said.
“That may mean they stay away and wait for several days, but we don’t have any staff on the ground, it’s just about dropping the aid and providing that support.”
The wife of one of the staff on board, who asked not to be named, said she lost contact with her husband this morning just before Dutton appeared.
“He texted me all morning until about 15-20 minutes before the press conference, I haven’t heard from him since,” she said.
“It could be a coincidence, but it’s a bit strange.”
She said the last thing he sent was that they were about 100km from Tonga and would be docking tomorrow, suggesting the crew were also unaware of the outbreak when they first speak.
“I was just really annoyed and want to know why we weren’t allowed to be briefed in front of the media. It’s no secret,” she said.
“They couldn’t even send a quick text or email to say that was what was happening and that they would be holding a press conference.
“I started getting messages (from family and friends) and I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’.”
It is the second aid shipment from Australia where a positive case has emerged, with a C-17 plane returned to midair after a person was diagnosed with Covid-19.