After 100 cases in June, Seattle seafood company reports 6 more crew have COVID-19 in Dutch Harbor

The American Triumph — a 285-foot factory trawler, with an onboard processing plant — sits in the Port of Dutch Harbor on Friday, waiting for clinic staff to test the remaining members of its 119-person crew. (Photo by Hope McKenney/KUCB)
The American Triumph — a 285-foot factory trawler, with an onboard processing plant — sits in the Port of Dutch Harbor on Friday, waiting for clinic staff to test the remaining members of its 119-person crew. (Photo by Hope McKenney/KUCB)

A Bering Sea trawler currently docked in Dutch Harbor has reported six cases of COVID-19 among its 119 crew members, officials said Friday.

The cases are onboard the American Triumph, which is operated by Seattle-based American Seafoods.

Last month, the company announced that more than 100 crew members on three of the company’s six vessels had tested positive for the virus.

At the time, experts questioned the company’s decision to mandate a five-day quarantine period, rather than the 14 days recommended by many health officials. American Seafoods subsequently said it had extended its quarantine period to two weeks.

The cases announced Friday bring the total tally of positive cases on American Seafoods vessels to 123 since late May, according to spokesperson Suzanne Lagoni.

The American Triumph is a 285-foot factory trawler, with an onboard processing plant. It had been at sea since June 27, fishing both offshore from Washington and Oregon and then moving to Alaska to fish for pollock in the Bering Sea, Lagoni said.

The vessel arrived in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor on Thursday to offload frozen fish. All crew members arriving in Unalaska had been on the vessel for at least 14 days, she said.

Seven crew members had reported symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and were tested in Unalaska upon arrival, Unalaska’s city government said in a statement. Six of those crew members tested positive, and all seven have been placed in isolation, though the city did not say where.

The 112 people still on board will be screened and tested for the virus Friday by medical staff from Iliuliuk Family and Health Services. The vessel’s crew is barred from leaving the boat, except for the screening and testing, the city said.

“Our primary concern is the safety and health of all our crew members and the community of Unalaska. We deeply appreciate the support of the city and the IFHS clinic, and we are fully cooperating with them,” American Seafoods CEO Mikel Durham was quoted as saying in the city’s statement.

In advance of the summer fishing season in Alaska, seafood companies developed mitigation plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as it swept across the globe. And none of the other companies that operate huge Bering Sea factory processing vessels have announced cases of the virus among their crews.

But last month’s outbreak on American Seafoods’ vessels brought to light what can go wrong when dozens of crew live in tight quarters.

The American Triumph had four crew members test positive for COVID-19 in June, before the company extended its required quarantine period to two weeks. The company now says that before boarding, all new crew members must undergo a series of testing and screening procedures, including two nasal swab PCR tests and the 14-day quarantine.

Unalaska’s city government is not concerned about community spread at this time and will not be increasing its assessment of the local risk level — which is currently set at “medium” — due to the “ability to effectively isolate any positive persons,” its statement said.

“We offer our best wishes to the individuals who have recently been diagnosed,” said City Manager Erin Reinders. “We remind all community members to remain diligent in practicing personal protective measures — wash your hands, stay six feet from other people, wear face coverings in public, don’t touch your face, and keep your social circles small. Please continue to show compassion and kindness to others in this challenging time.”

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