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Mysterious Covid-19 Outbreak On Ship After 35 Days At Sea Stumps Scientists


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


A view of Ushuai, the capital of Argentina's southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego and the nearest port to the infected vessel. L By LMspencer

Argentina is currently dealing with a mysterious Covid-19 outbreak onboard a ship that’s been out at sea for over 35 days. Considering all the sailors tested negative and self-quarantined before they set sail, no one is quite sure how the virus came aboard and infected dozens of crewmembers. 

At least 57 out of 61 people onboard the Etchizen Maru fishing trawler have tested positive for Covid-19, according to local health authorities in Argentina's southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia. Two of the crew have tested negative, while the remaining two are still awaiting confirmation of their results. 


The outbreak was first confirmed on Saturday night after seven people onboard tested positive for the virus. At the time, the health ministry said the crew had been on the high seas for 35 days and had no contact with the outside world since setting sail.

Most strangely, all of the crew tested negative and self-isolated for two weeks before boarding the ship. This, in theory, would mean the chances of Covid-19 being introduced to the ship and its crew were slim-to-none.

"The crew of the ship had 14 days of isolation in a hotel in Ushuaia, during which we believe they had no contact with people from the city and then they were sailing for 35 days,” Leandro Ballatore, the chief of Infectology of the Ushuaia Regional Hospital and member of the provincial Emergency Operating Committee, said in a statement.

“Even before coming to the province, they had a swab in Buenos Aires due to the policy of the company that brought them in and the result was negative. In addition, during the period they were here, we had no cases circulating in the province, for which we believe that there is no link with the population of Ushuaia,” he added.


One of the patients was transferred to the Ushuaia Regional Hospital in the capital of Tierra del Fuego on Sunday, while another was admitted on Monday because the person was considered at-risk. The rest remain quarantined on the ship and are receiving aid from the local province.

An investigation is now being launched to see how Covid-19 emerged on the ship, although there are no obvious clues as the ship followed all the necessary precautions. One of the most reasonable explanations is that at least one of the crewmembers’ tests provided a false negative result in Buenos Aires. The virus could have then slowly spread around the crew during their self-isolation without people displaying clear symptoms before some of the crew displayed symptoms once the ship had left the docks. This, however, remains mere speculation.

"It is a case that escapes all the description that appears in the publications because such a long incubation period is not described anywhere," Ballatore explained. 

"We are focusing on the rest of the crew to determine if there are any other cases that have asymptomatic disease. There is much to evaluate and we are taking the first steps, because this requires a backward analysis, we will even review the medical record book until March to evaluate all the events that were registered and understand the situation more," continued Ballatore.



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