Durban - A Liberian container vessel has been cleared at the Richards Bay port, after its arrival sparked fears that its crew could be carrying the deadly Ebola virus.
Port officials on Tuesday said the Hammonia Pacificum, which arrived from Lome, the capital of Togo, in west Africa, on Saturday afternoon, had no traces of Ebola.
The virus has killed more than 1 000 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the outbreak was first reported in February.
The ship had been quarantined for “extra caution” because it came from west Africa, Richards Bay harbour master, Sabelo Mdlalose, said.
According to shipping website Marine Traffic, which tracks registered vessels, the container vessel had docked in Singapore and Belgium during June and last month, and was in Lome on July 20.
Mdlalose said none of the crew had Ebola or any other disease.
“It is only because the ship comes from west Africa that we actually put stringent measures in place to safeguard our people,” he said. “The ship being quarantined was purely for safeguarding.”
Mdlalose said it was common practice for vessels to be checked before they were cleared at the harbour.
The port authorities and other state agencies, including Sars’ Customs and Excise department, were working together to ensure no diseases were brought into the country through the ports, he said.
Meanwhile, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health has opened a designated Ebola ward at Addington Hospital.
Nurses had been trained to work with Ebola patients, Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said last week.
The ward at Addington Hospital had been chosen because it is on ground level and provides easy access for ambulances.
“We are ready and re-training staff to do what they were expected to do in 2010,” Dhlomo said, referring to the medical planning for the soccer World Cup.
Dr Juno Thomas, head of the outbreak response unit at the National Health Institute for Communicable Diseases, said the chances of an Ebola outbreak in South Africa remained very low.
She said ports and airports were well regulated.
Thomas said health questionnaires, symptom screening and thermal scanning were being offered to people arriving from west Africa.
She described the enforcement of airline and shipping bans by some countries in the continent to affected countries in west Africa as a “drastic measure” and said South Africa was acting in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.
“We still have many people travelling to west Africa for business, trade, or recreational activities. Unless one goes to the rural areas where the outbreak is, they are unlikely to get in contact with people that may be ill,” said Thomas.
“The risk is very small for tourists, but with healthcare workers and lab workers, the risk is higher, because they may have been in contact.”