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Portuguese ship owner says it didn't agree to pay Eastern Health for COVID-19 crew care costs

Portuguese ship owner says it didn't agree to pay Eastern Health for COVID-19 crew care costs
Rob Antle · Aug 17, 2023

Federal Court filings request dismissal of $1M lawsuit

The owner of two Portuguese fishing vessels afflicted by COVID-19 outbreaks two years ago says it shouldn't have to pay for medical costs incurred to treat ill crew members while the ships were anchored in Newfoundland waters.

Earlier this year, Eastern Health sued the two vessels and their owner to recover more than $1 million in unpaid medical expenses.

Antonio Conde & Companhia SA filed a statement of defence at Federal Court this week, asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed.

The company — based in Aveiro, Portugal — denies that it agreed to pay the regional health authority for the provision of medical services to sick crew members.

"The plaintiff was advised that all invoices and requests for payment should be directed to the health authorities in Portugal, and/or the private health insurers of crew members," the court filings note.

The company also contends that "the provision of medical services to sick crew members at a hospital operated by a provincial health authority is not a matter under or by virtue of Canadian maritime law."

Eastern Health's lawsuit, filed in January, cited the Marine Liability Act.

In the summer of 2021, the Princesa Santa Joana spent over two weeks in Conception Bay. There were more than 30 COVID-19 cases confirmed aboard, and one crew member was ultimately diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Another ship, the Santa Cristina, anchored in Bay Bulls around the same time, with four confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Antonio Conde & Companhia SA owns both vessels.

In court filings earlier this year, the health authority says it was asked to provide medical care to crew members of the ships who were suspected to be infected.

One person aboard the Santa Cristina spent a total of 128 days in hospital, with medical costs topping $615,000, and crew members from the Princesa Santa Joana incurred more than $414,000 in medical services, Eastern Health said in court filings.

The health authority is seeking the sum of those amounts — more than $1 million — plus costs.

At this point, none of the claims made by either side have been tested in court.

The St. John's-based lawyer for Antonio Conde & Companhia SA declined comment on behalf of the company, noting that the matter remains before the Federal Court.

In January, Eastern Health — which has since been absorbed into a provincewide health authority — said it doesn't comment on matters that are before the courts.