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“Something must be done” about tug incident at Big Creek, says P.M.; port hits back

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Posted: Monday, August 17, 2020. 1:08 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: CEO in the Ministry of Health, Dr. George Gough, is to provide a written report concerning last week’s situation with five workers of the Port of Big Creek, Stann Creek District, who tested positive here for COVID-19 after trekking to Roatan, Honduras.

But the Big Creek Port, which had not directly commented when reached to by Channel 7 News on Friday except to say inter alia, “The virus has reached a level that no one knows where it is. There are many people who need testing and the authorities won’t give them. Many I am sure (have) the virus but without testing the risk is high,” has subsequently complained that the report is misleading and offered their version of events via press release on Saturday.

The Port contends, “Our tug and crew were in Roatan, Honduras for 10 days. It is a normal part of our operations to conduct business with the Ports in Guatemala and Honduras. All proper arrangements, permits and approvals were sought and received from the relevant Belizean Authorities prior to the tug’s departure to Honduras as is routine before any voyage is made. The voyage referred to in the newscast, therefore, was neither secretive nor illegal.

As a responsible company and understanding the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, it was agreed with Honduran authorities that our crew would not disembark the tug. Our tug is fully equipped with live-aboard facilities and food to last the entire voyage; therefore, we did not pay for any lodging for our crew. Upon arrival at the port, the crew was tested by Honduran authorities. These tests returned negative.”

The men were tested again as part of mandatory procedures two days before coming to Belize, and the Port says they presented these negative certificates to authorities and agreed for the men to be tested aboard the vessel by Belizean authorities.

But this was changed, the Port says, and tests were instead done at the Independence Polyclinic with a waiting time of three hours. The group returned to the tug to quarantine, but five days later they went home due to an apparent miscommunication and had to be called back by CEO Gough, to whom the Port complained about the delay in results. The positive diagnosis was confirmed later that same night.

Of the five, one is hospitalized in improving condition, the others are still aboard the tug and are asymptomatic.

Speaking on Friday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said Dr. Gough, who briefed him, was “incensed” by what had happened and it was his sense that “there is absolutely no excuse for” the decision by the Port to send the tug to Roatan, despite the borders being closed except for cargo and emergencies; it was not clear to him who authorized the travel.

“If a big player, a big man, is responsible for something like that happening, no, man;…what ought to happen to him, is comparable to what ought to happen to the border jumpers… I am not certain of the circumstances in which the tug came. I don’t think you are far off in seeing a degree of equivalency, I’m just not sure how much they completely coincide, and I don’t want to talk too prematurely. But something needs to happen about that incident if what the CEO tells me is correct, and your reports seem to suggest that he is absolutely correct,” the P.M. concluded.

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