Sealord chief executive, Doug Paulin. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal.

Russian seafarers now in Nelson

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BY RNZ

Almost 70 of the 237 Russian and Ukranian seafarers who were in a Christchurch managed isolation facility have made their way to Nelson.

Thirty-one members of the group of 237 tested positive for Covid-19 during their stay in managed isolation at the Sudima Hotel in Christchurch.

Nelson-based Sealord is one of the three companies which bought the crew into the country to work on its deep-sea trawlers.

Two healthcare workers at the hotel caught the virus and are considered community cases, as they have not been overseas.

Sealord chief executive Doug Paulin said 69 of the crew members working for his company were now in Nelson and on-board ships.

Two Sealord crew members will stay in isolation until this weekend, because they are considered to be close contacts of positive cases.

Paulin said the crew on its second boat will have their shore leave cancelled for seven days in order to provide reassurance to the public.

About 200 crew members were due to arrive in New Zealand from Moscow on Monday, but had been delayed, he said.

“All of those crew had to use accommodation in Moscow before leaving,” Paulin said.

“That obviously becomes a place and a time when they’re at greater risk. “We’ve looked to get rid of that day and make sure they continue to follow all the protocols.”

However, a fisheries expert is asking whether the economic benefit New Zealand receives from having overseas crew here is worth the risk they pose due to Covid-19.

Dr Glenn Simmons said they should all be sent home. They did not bring enough money into the economy to justify the risk we were taking, illustrated by the two health workers taking the virus home with them after caring for 31 of the infected mariners, he said.

“We send money overseas for the actual charter of these vessels and their wages are typically sent back to their home country. The species that they are harvesting is sent offshore semi-processed, and it’s reprocessed into value added products offshore, and we don’t capture that value either.”

The seven overseas-owned deep sea trawlers were chartered by three New Zealand companies, Sealord, Independent, and Maruha Nichiro.

Paulin said while the low value species they caught were not processed in this country, there were other downstream benefits to New Zealand from having them here.

“Stevedoring, provedoring, engineering services, cold storage, freight forwarders, transport companies, the port company.”

Paulin said between them the seven boats brought in $725 million in revenue every year, and supported the jobs of 425 land-based locals.

Over time Sealord had moved from having all boats crewed by foreigners to just two out of nine being manned in this way. Paulin said by the end of next year they would only be using one of them.

“It really comes down to affordability for us, because it takes quite a bit of time to build. It’s like a two-year project to build a new deepwater fishing boat. And we’re very lucky we’ve got very supportive shareholders, who were happy to invest in replenishing our fleet.”