A Spanish Navy research vessel has been forced to abandon an expedition to Antarctica after four of its crew tested positive for COVID-19.
The polar research ship Hesperides set sail from a naval station in the city of Cartagena in the Spanish region of Murcia on 30th December.
The vessel was set to embark on a months-long journey and conduct studies at the Gabriel de Castilla Base research station on Deception Island just off mainland Antarctica.
However, the Spanish press said the ship was ordered to turn around and head to the city of Las Palmas on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands yesterday (4 January).
The decision to interrupt the research expedition took place after four crew members tested positive for COVID-19 during rapid testing which was ordered after some workers appeared to display symptoms.
The people who tested positive are a non-commissioned officer, two corporals, and a sailor.
Though only four people have been confirmed to have the virus, local sources said the crew will be given a PCR test as they are more reliable.
The Hesperides, which has a crew of about 50 people, was expected to dock in Gran Canaria at some point yesterday (4 January). If PCR testing shows no new positives, the ship will remain in quarantine for another 10 days before setting sail again.
The Spanish Navy said the Hesperides followed protocols which included a PCR test followed by quarantine and another PCR test, which must be negative before anyone can board the ship.
However, newspaper El Pais said that it is “probable” that someone skipped quarantine due to the holiday celebrations, however there have been no official reports confirming the claim.
According to a statement by the Spanish Navy, no new cases have been detected and anti-COVID-19 protocol has been established.
There were no scientists onboard the ship as it was set to pick them up in Chile before setting sail to Antarctica. If allowed to continue its expedition, the Hesperides could stay there as late as April.