Cruise ships in limbo on COVID-19 fears

Golden Princess voyage. Credit: IHS Markit/Gary McLeod

Several cruise ships are now stranded worldwide as more countries shut their ports to such vessels amid the worsening coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Since 15 March 2020, Golden Princess, carrying 3,700 passengers and crew, has been isolated off Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island, after one passenger began showing COVID-19 symptoms.

The previous day, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern banned all cruise ships from calling until 30 June, while all overseas arrivals are to self-isolate for 14 days.

New Zealand’s director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, said three passengers, including the suspected COVID-19 case, have been quarantined by the ship’s doctor. The other two passengers had been in close contact with the suspected case.

Chile has quarantined two cruise ships, Silver Explorer and Azamara Pursuit, over the weekend. A British passenger on Silver Explorer tested positive for COVID-19, while Chilean authorities claimed that there are suspected COVID-19 cases on Azamara Pursuit.

Norwegian Jewel, a ship operated by Norwegian Cruise Line, has been rejected by a succession of ports in the Pacific over COVID-19 fears, although none of its passengers and crew are unwell.

The ship was scheduled to visit Australia, New Zealand, and French Polynesia before ending in Tahiti on 20 March. Reportedly, Norwegian Jewel has been asked to divert to Hawaii.

Over the weekend, Columbus, a ship operated by Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), was finally given permission to dock in Indonesia’s Tanjung Emas port, after Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini rebuffed the vessel from the city’s port. Columbus was also previously refused entry to Tonga, amid growing worldwide fears that COVID-19 could easily spread among the thousands of passengers and crew within the confines of cruise ships.

On 14 March, CMV joined a host of major cruise operators, including Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and Norwegian Cruise Line, in suspending cruise services, citing difficulties caused by international authorities’ rising aversion to cruise ships.

Meanwhile, Princess Cruises said in an emailed statement to SAS that 2,450 passengers have disembarked from Grand Princess at the Port of Oakland in California, while 14 non-US passengers are awaiting transportation to their home countries. Twenty-one passengers and crew from the ship had tested positive for COVID-19 and have been sent to US hospitals for treatment.

Princess Cruises said that the crew members will be sent back to their home countries on charter flights that will be paid for by the company, but any crew member found to be unwell will be moved to medical facilities in the United States for further assessment.

Originating in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, COVID-19 causes potentially fatal respiratory difficulties. The illness has been rapidly spreading in Europe, and the World Health Organization has declared the continent as the new COVID-19 epicentre.