DOH warns of maritime clusters as industry embraces safety protocols

DOH warns of maritime clusters as industry embraces safety protocols

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health is warning about coronavirus clusters among ocean businesses, including commercial and recreational boating.

As part of its latest clusters report, the agency said several recent maritime clusters included two to eight cases. The clusters involved tugboats, small commercial shipping vessels and recreational boats.

The common issue was a lack of social distancing ― tougher to do on a boat.

One cluster in September involved ship building specialists. Nine employees tested positive.

They said they wore masks, but that cramped conditions led to workers being within 6 feet of each for extended periods of time.

“It’s getting more and more concerning what’s happening,” said Donovan Duncan, Hawaii Regional director of Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific.

The union represents 200 members in the tugboat industry.

Duncan says only one of their members have gotten sick and it was linked to travel.

“It just shows what we’ve been doing seems to be working,” he said.

“However, it’s really important that it does work.”

Duncan says an outbreak could be disruptive to delivery of goods to Hawaii. That’s why there are testing protocols and operators basically stay in a bubble while working for weeks.

“You have to stay on the vessel and especially on the inter-island tugs, they have to stay in the vessel,” said Duncan.

On the recreational side, the Hawaii Kai Boat Club has changed things up to keep people safe.

The club, which teaches young people how to sail, shifted directions from large classes to four-person class sizes and only solo sailing.

“It’s a fairly safe environment we feel. We’ve had no cases at all within our group,” said Rafael Baez, commodore of Hawaii Kai Boat Club.

“We used to run classes with as many as sometimes 16 kids and due to the gathering limits we now have four kids and one coach,” Baez added.

Jim Cook, of the Hawaii Longline Association, says most of their workers are foreign nationals and they’ve had no COVID-19 cases.

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