Nfld. & Labrador

Ferry passenger says travellers returning from outside Canada put ship at risk

A Labrador man is upset and concerned about his elderly mother with cancer after some fellow passengers on the Strait of Belle Isle ferry didn't reveal they had been abroad.

Company says passenger limit to be reduced, screening improved

The Kamutik W went into service last summer, serving communities in coastal Labrador. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

A Labrador man is questioning why three people who'd travelled internationally were able to get on the Strait of Belle Isle ferry yesterday and were allowed to mingle with other passengers.

Irving Clarke of Port Hope Simpson and his mother, Dorothy Clarke, left Corner Brook, N.L., aboard the Kamutik W on Monday morning en route to Blanc-Sablon, Que. 

On the way, rumours began to circulate that several passengers were returning from international travel but had not disclosed that information upon boarding, as they are required to do as a result of COVID-19 restrictions on travel.

"The problem lies with somebody who knew they were at risk and came on board in a group of 117 passengers on board here right now," said Clarke.

Risk to mother's health

Clarke said he's upset about the potential impact on his 70-year-old mother, who underwent surgery for cancer on March 3 in St. John's.

"It raises major concerns for me," said Clarke about the possibility that his mother may have been exposed to COVID-19.

"My mom here just had to go through a cancer surgery and taking cancer treatment. Her immune system is way down."

On Tuesday, their journey took a twist when Dorothy Clarke needed to be airlifted because of an infection to her face. 

Irving Clarke said it's his understanding the individuals returning from international travel were mingling with other passengers for about an hour before the crew of the Kamutik were informed of their presence.

Irving Clarke of Port Hope Simpson and his mother, Dorothy Clarke, left Corner Brook aboard the Kamutik W on Monday. (Submitted by Irving Clarke)

Clarke said the crew acted swiftly to place the individuals in isolation, where they were supposed to remain for the duration of the voyage.

But Clarke claims that didn't happen.

"They've been seen out around the vessel, not adhering to the quarantine that they've been issued here aboard the ship," he told CBC from aboard the Kamutik, which was still stuck in heavy ice as of midday Tuesday.

Clarke said the international travellers should not have been able to get on board the Kamutik in the first place.

Based on his experience boarding the vessel on Monday, he said the screening of passengers was lax.

"Most people [weren't] even asked if they had flu-like symptoms," said Clarke.

Premier Dwight Ball said Tuesday the province is aware of the situation, and the passengers in question are isolated and practising social distancing and hygiene measures. 

Ball said he's been told they are asymptomatic.

"Right now we believe there is no reason to be concerned," he said.

Potential disaster

Clarke acknowledges the individuals who had travelled internationally might not even have COVID-19, but he said everyone aboard will still have to self-isolate because of them.

After being away from Port Hope Simpson for more than 100 days to accompany his mother for cancer treatment, Clarke said, he was eager to get back home.

Dorothy Clarke was airlifted from the ferry on Tuesday and flown to Gander, for treatment of an infection on her face. (Submitted by Irving Clarke )

"When I get home, I can't go and give my wife a kiss. I got to go to another house and isolate myself," said Clarke.

But Clarke said that's a mild consequence of the international travellers' careless actions, compared with the potential for the spread of the coronavirus to communities throughout Labrador.

"We had 117 persons onboard here that's going to scatter all over Labrador and, if there's something going on with COVID-19, it's going to be a disaster."

Fewer people, better screening ahead

The Kamutik W is operated by Labrador Marine, which is part of the Woodward Group of Companies.

In an email to CBC, Peter Woodward, the president and CEO of the Woodward Group, confirmed there was an incident onboard the Kamutik with passengers returning from outside the country and not declaring it.

The Kamutik W will 'go into deep clean' upon arrival in Blanc-Sablon, Que., says the ship's owner. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Woodward said the passengers were isolated from others on board, and there is no evidence of them having been infected or having contact with anyone infected.

Before the next sailing of the Kamutik W., said Woodward, the vessel's crew will be more aggressive in interviewing passengers before boarding.

In addition, he said the passenger limit is being reduced from the current 120 to a maximum of 53 travellers during COVID-19.

Woodward also said the vessel will "go into deep clean" upon arrival in Blanc-Sablon.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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