New bid to free wharfies in Howard Springs

The maritime union is continuing to challenge Hugh Heggie's detention order for 13 wharfies.
The maritime union is continuing to challenge Hugh Heggie's detention order for 13 wharfies.

A group of Darwin wharfies forced into COVID-19 quarantine at Howard Springs after allegedly uploading a foreign ship without adequate personal protection equipment have launched a bid for early release.

Their employer, stevedoring company Linx Cargo Care Group, attempted to win the 13 men's release in the Northern Territory Local Court, where it's challenging Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie's order.

But their application was on Friday rejected by Judge John Neil, who said he was satisfied Dr Heggie had made the correct decision.

Lawyers for the Maritime Union of Australia on Tuesday wrote to NT Health seeking the mens' immediate release, saying Western Australian authorities failed to find evidence of COVID-19 on board the Tacoma Trader cargo vessel, which sparked their detention.

The Tacoma sailed from Darwin on Thursday bound for Port Hedland, where it has unloaded more cargo containers.

Before that, a group of port workers that helped unload the ship were directed to 14 days' mandatory supervised quarantine on June 11 after allegedly unloading the Tacoma, which sailed from Singapore on June 5, without using the correct PPE.

The MUA said NT Health failed to test Tacoma's crew for COVID before or after detaining the port workers but independent COVID testing on Thursday found it was not infected with the virus.

The union is now also examining options for a legal challenge against the NT government, arguing that there are no reasonable grounds for their ongoing detention.

"It is the union's position that following the negative COVID tests from the crew of the vessel at the centre of this alleged biosecurity breach, there are no longer any reasonable grounds to justify the ongoing detention of these workers," MUA assistant national secretary Adrian Evans said.

"When NT Health made the decision to throw these workers in quarantine detention, they didn't know whether there was COVID onboard this vessel, but now that we have the clear evidence that there was not, there is no justification for keeping them locked up.

"Our lawyers have requested the chief health officer issue directions enabling the immediate release of our members.

Mr Evans said the Tacoma was scheduled to return to Darwin later this week, but inconsistent and unclear directions from NT Health threatened to further delay it.

Australian Associated Press