West Australian authorities are considering their options after the number of COVID-19 cases linked to a bulk carrier off Port Hedland climbed to 17.
There are now a dozen crew members in quarantine at the Hedland Hotel, 10 of whom have tested positive.
Nine people remain on the Patricia Oldendorff as part of the essential crew and seven of them have tested positive.
The ship, carrying 20 Filipino nationals and the captain, has been anchored nine nautical miles off WA’s north-west coast since September 16.
WA’s Department of Health has said all crew members are in good spirits and have been able to contact family at home.
Security personnel have been flown in to help local police oversee the hotel quarantine and locals have been assured there is no risk to the community.
Authorities are weighing up bringing in a replacement crew so the remaining skeleton crew can be brought ashore.
But at present, there are not enough fit and healthy crew across WA to safely man the ship, which will also need to be deep-cleaned before its departure.
Maritime laws require 13 people to be aboard the vessel when it departs for international waters.
Authorities have confirmed the skeleton crew might need to remain on the ship for the duration of their quarantine periods.
The Australian Medical Association has expressed concerns about Hedland Hospital’s facilities should crew members need hospitalisation.
“Maybe the government does have it under control but they need to be very open with us now,” WA president Andrew Miller said on Monday after eight new cases were announced.
The two essential crew members on the ship who tested negative are awaiting serological test results to determine whether they have previously had the virus.
It’s hoped they will have developed antibodies, allowing them to remain as part of the crew.