Stowaway rat forces Australian freighter into quarantine

Covid-19 is not the only thing that one might find aboard a ship that causes it to have to go into quarantine.

General cargo ship Island Trader (IMO 8017267), which delivers essential supplies to Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia, was forced to quarantine for a week after a single rat was detected onboard.

The Island Trader carries supplies to the 350 residents of Lord Howe Island, but when a live rodent was detected onboard by trail cameras, strict biosecurity laws for the island meant that loading had to be halted while the ship was searched by dogs.

The Lord Howe Island Board (LHIB) said that reviews of the trailcam footage provided no evidence that the rodent had left the ship, and that therefore a decision was made to quarantine the vessel.

The LHIB activated a contingency plan and asked the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to fly emergency supplies to the island.

Island Trader, a general cargo ship built in 1981 and operated by contractor Birdon, is required to meet high standards of biosecurity to prevent rats and other biosecurity risks entering the island. The Australian government has undertaken an expensive long-term programme to remove rats from Lord Howe Island’s ecosystem, and it does not want to risk a new infestation.

After a call with independent rodent experts, the team decided to unload the ship to ensure it could be fully checked, then hold the vessel for seven days. After completing the quarantine, Island Trader was cleared to depart on Thursday and has resumed its normal route.

Rats arrived on Lord Howe Island in a wrecked freighter in 1918, since when they had been exceptionally harmful to its native birds, many of which are found nowhere else; rat predation on Lord Howe had already contributed to the extinction of five bird species, at least 13 species of invertebrates, and two plant species, according to the board.

A multi-million-dollar eradication programme began in 2019 and a mop-up campaign eliminated another 100 rats last year.

1981-built, Australia-flagged, 499 gt Island Trader is owned and managed by Lord Howe Island Trader of Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia. It is entered with Shipowners’ Club on behalf of Birdon Holdings Pty Ltd.