A spate of COVID-19 outbreaks on freight vessels destined for Fremantle has sent jitters through WA’s agricultural supply chain, with industry leaders urging the State not to “stop trade” by stopping vessels arriving from virus-plagued Indonesia. WA Premier Mark McGowan sparked concern among farmers and pastoralists for suggesting that ships from Indonesia could be banned, after four merchant ships arrived in WA waters with COVID-infected crew this month. All four made stops in Indonesia before setting sail for WA, with Mr McGowan labelling cargo ships arriving from Indonesia “a significant risk to the State”. Mr McGowan said the Federal Government would speak to international shipping companies about banning crews from taking shore leave in the COVID-ravaged nation. “We will turn ships away if we can ... and send a message to the shipping companies (to say) ‘you will lose money if you don’t deal with this situation’,” he said. “My view is when the ships are in Indonesia, the crew stay onboard, they don’t get off. “When you get off and you go to some of the port towns, the likelihood is you will catch COVID.” Two unvaccinated WA healthcare workers were put into hotel quarantine for 14 days on Monday after an infection control breach during the transfer of three COVID positive crew from the virus-riddled MV Darya Krishna at Fremantle Port to Fiona Stanley Hospital. The scare comes just weeks after a COVID protocol breach occurred in Geraldton when a COVID-positive seafarer aboard bulk carrier MV Emerald Indah was transferred to the Mid West city for treatment. Mr McGowan turned that ship, sent from Indonesia to collect 50,000 tonnes of wheat, away empty after a crew member tested positive for COVID-19. The buyer of the wheat being sold by CBH Group, was Bogasari in Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest flour mills and Australia’s biggest customer for wheat. Another cargo ship — the BBC California — is currently berthed at Fremantle Port after being riddled with the fast-spreading Delta variant. The Mattina container ship docked at Fremantle Port between July 10 and 13, with two crew testing positive to coronavirus in New Zealand after leaving Fremantle. Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association president David Stoate said banning vessels would devastate the northern cattle industry. Mr Stoate said the next two months was a critical sales period for the industry and banning vessels would shut down the year’s trade, as well as doing reputational damage. “To say we’re nervous is an understatement. There’s a lot of disquiet among pastoralists at the suggestion,” he said. “I can’t see how they could stop the trade — it’s also food security for another country.” A CBH spokeswoman said the co-operative was confident it could ensure the safety of those involved with loading grain on to ships. “CBH has protocols in place at our ports to ensure the safety of ships’ crew, our own stevedores, and the local community, at all times when loading a vessel,” she said. “We will continue to work closely with the State Government and our customers to ensure that we comply with the protocols in place, and can minimise the impact to our customers and our supply chain.” WAFarmers president John Hassell said he supported tighter protocols at Indonesian ports but there should be no ban. “It’s vital to our economy and food for our customers. I hope the Premier uses his brains and makes sure trade can continue,” Mr Hassell said. Pastoralist and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said any further refusals to accept or deny loading of vessels from Indonesia would do irrecoverable reputational damage with one of WA’s most important customers. Mr Hassell said there would also be impacts in terms of getting supplies into Australia for the industry. For example, the industry was already struggling to get spare parts into Australia. Mr McGowan’s comments come just weeks after Perth-based freight forwarder EES Shipping director Brian Hack warned the State’s mining and agricultural industries risked being ground to a halt because of worsening delays in global shipping. Delays began at the start of the pandemic last year but continued to snowball this year due to problems including the Suez Canal blockage in March and the more recent COVID outbreak in China, resulting in Yantian port being closed for weeks.