Japan probes COVID-19 outbreak on Costa Atlantica

Costa Atlantica. Credit: Daniel Ferro

Japanese authorities are investigating the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on docked cruise ship Costa Atlantica after nearly 150 of the ship’s 623 crew tested positive for the potentially fatal ailment over the weekend.

The ship, owned by CSSC Carnival Cruise Shipping, had been docked at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI) Nagasaki yard for repairs since 29 January 2020. Repairs are due to be completed by the end of April. The ship was originally intended to be repaired in China, but its owner decided to send the vessel to MHI due to the COVID-19 pandemic that originated in Wuhan.

Allegations that some of the crew members headed into the city on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu have been made by coach and taxi operators who claimed that they ferried some of the seafarers, who are mostly Filipino and Indonesian nationals.

If the allegations are true, the seafarers have defied instructions from the authorities not to disembark from the vessel.

The first sign of the outbreak came when one crew member became unwell in mid-April and Nagasaki prefectural government confirmed the COVID-19 test result on 20 April. As more crew members fell sick, a decision was made to test everyone on board, including a Japanese translator among the group.

Health ministry officials and specialists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases were also deployed to the ship.

Until the COVID-19 cluster on Costa Atlantica was discovered, Nagasaki had not seen a major outbreak of the disease, unlike the more densely populated Tokyo.

As of 27 April, 148 crew members have tested positive for COVID-19, with one of them in critical condition. Costa Cruises’ Japanese office told SAS that it plans to repatriate unaffected crew members on one or multiple chartered flights.

While the critically ill crew member has been hospitalised, the remaining 622, including those with mild symptoms of COVID-19, have remained on board, with the Nagasaki government keeping a watch on their condition.

All crew are staying in cabins, but the living spaces of those who tested positive and negative are not strictly separated, so an infected crew member could be staying in a room next to an uninfected one, according to the Nagasaki government.