Coronavirus: Some cruise ships still stuck at sea, scrambling to find ports and get passengers home

A study analyzed the coronavirus outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Video Elephant

While many major cruise operators are idling their fleets in response to the coronavirus pandemic, some ships are still at sea or trying to find a port as they deal with fears that passengers or crew may have become infected with COVID-19.

Some ships, such as Fred. Olsen Cruises' Braemar, have passengers aboard who either tested positive for COVID-19 or have coronavirus-related symptoms. Others, like Celebrity Cruises' Eclipse, have no reported cases, yet are being turned away from ports overseas.

"This is a highly fluid situation, with numbers changing by the hour as cruise ships around the world are completing their voyages," Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications at Cruise Lines International Association, the industry's leading trade organization, told USA TODAY.

As of Thursday morning, around 14% of CLIA's 277 member ships were still at sea in the process of wrapping up current voyages.

"The vast majority of the rest are either at port, anchored or repositioning," Golin-Blaugrund continued. "CLIA members are focused on the safe and smooth return home of those onboard cruise ships that are currently at sea."

But the path home is increasingly murky for some ships.

Officials alerting Ruby Princess passengers others tested positive

A third Princess Cruise ship has become subject to the chaos of coronavirus.

After two members of the Princess Cruises fleet, Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, were forced into quarantine as a result of the rampant virus, Ruby Princess' former passengers now have to worry that they too could have been in contact with COVID-19.

Passengers on board the Ruby Princess, including approximately 570 Americans, disembarked Thursday and the cruise line announced the positive tests on Friday.

"We are working closely with NSW Health authorities who advised that three guests and a crew member who travelled on Ruby Princess have tested positive for COVID-19," the cruise line said in a statement Friday provided by spokeswoman Negin Kamali. 

All four people reported flu-like symptoms during the cruise and were in isolation on board with their travel companions. 

"We have assisted NSW Health to make contact with all guests who arrived in Sydney yesterday," the cruise line said.

The ship can hold up to 3,080 guests and 1,200 crew members, according to the Princess Cruises website.

"Ruby Princess had returned to Sydney in accordance with the Australian Government’s arrangements for cruise ships to return and disembark guests at the ports where their cruises began," Kamali told USA TODAY in an email.

Costa Luminosa arrives in France

Costa Cruises' Costa Luminosa arrived to port in Marseille, France, on Thursday, where it was allowed to disembark some guests despite the fact that France is under lockdown.

According to the cruise line, 386 Costa Luminosa passengers, including all 233 Americans on board and some Canadian and French passengers, too, disembarked in Marseille. Those who disembarked on Thursday evening were accompanied to flights and transfers organized by the company, and the partial disembarkation continued Friday. 

The cruise line said the ship has five passengers and two crew members exhibiting "flu-like" symptoms. The most common coronavirus symptoms resemble the flu and include fever, tiredness and dry cough. 

After dropping off passengers in Marseille, "the ship is then scheduled to continue towards Italy, where Costa is working with local authorities to complete disembarkation for remaining guests," the cruise line said in a statement shared by Rossella Carrara, vice president of external relations and sustainability for Costa Cruises.

Complicating matters is the fact that all of Italy is in the midst of a government-enforced lockdown, including its ports, according to Cruise Critic, a news and review site, which raises questions about the Luminosa's ability to dock in Savona or Naples as planned.

Earlier in the week, Costa Luminosa was denied permission to disembark its more than 1,400 passengers in Spain after that country was placed in lockdown over the weekend, including the closure of all ports.

The company, which is owned by Carnival Corp., said that three Costa Luminosa passengers who were removed from the ship in the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico have tested positive for COVID-19, including a 68-year-old man who died last weekend. On Monday, two passengers who had problems breathing and one who had a fever were transported from the ship to the hospital when it stopped for provisions in the Canary Islands, a autonomous Spanish territory off the coast of Morocco.

British guests from Braemar arrive back in U.K.

On Wednesday night, all 682 guests on the Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' Braemar disembarked in the Port of Mariel in Havana, Cuba, and boarded  charter flights back to England.

According to a Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines release provided by spokesperson Ellis Barker to USA TODAY, one plane ferried passengers who have been diagnosed with coronavirus or who have exhibited symptoms and their travel companions to MoD Boscombe Down Wiltshire, a military base in southwest England.

The other three jets were British Airways charter flights bound for London's Heathrow Airport. Upon arrival, passengers were provided with care packages including milk, tea, biscuits and fruit to help stock pantries at home. 

"We know that at times this was a frustrating process, and it was not the way they, or we, had anticipated the end to their holiday," Peter Deer, managing director of the cruise line, said in the release. “As we have already seen in the Caribbean, the world, including the U.K., has become a very different place over the past few weeks. I hope this small gesture of a care package goes some way to showing our thanks to them all in what has become a very challenging and unprecedented time."

On Tuesday, the cruise line reported that there were 28 guests in isolation, including two that tested positive for COVID-19 at a port call in Willemstad, Curaçao, the week before. There had been 27 crew members in isolation too, including a doctor. Those who were too sick to travel were to receive medical treatment in Cuba. 

Thursday afternoon, the ship, with its crew, began the journey back to the U.K. to rejoin the rest of the fleet. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines expects to welcome passengers and crew back on board as of May 23, after a pause of operations.

Norwegian Jewel and Holland America's Maasdam to be turned away from Hawaii

The state of Hawaii, which on Tuesday asked travelers to delay their trips for at least 30 days, has restricted ships owned by Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America Line from disembarking, despite a lack of positive cases of coronavirus on either vessel.

Previously, state and cruise line officials said passengers from the Norwegian Jewel and Holland America's MS Maasdam could disembark at Honolulu Harbor.

The only exception was made Friday in Honolulu for six Hawaiian residents, plus two other U.S. citizens for medical reasons not related to COVID-19. 

"No other guests will be allowed to disembark and must sail with the ship," Holland America said in a statement late Friday provided to USA TODAY by Erik Elvejord. "The company has been working today to facilitate reconsideration with various authorities on a humanitarian basis, as most governments have told their citizens to return home immediately."

There are no confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases among the 834 guests (including 444 American citizens) and 542 crew on board the Maasdam. The ship was allowed to take on fuel and provisions in Honolulu, and the Maasdam's departure time and new port of disembarkation are still being finalized.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said during a telephone town hall Wednesday that Hawaii's Department of Transportation "made the difficult, but correct, decision to only allow the Maasdam and Norwegian Jewel cruise vessels ... to come into port solely to take on fuel and resupply, in Honolulu Harbor.”

Norwegian Jewel, which is carrying about 1,700 passengers, was turned away from Fiji and New Zealand. While passengers were not permitted to leave the ship in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the ship was allowed to refuel there. It is expected to arrive in Honolulu on Sunday.

Contributing: The Associated Press, Chris Woodyard, Brian Truitt


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