A cruise ship carrying two dead passengers and a dozen people infected with coronavirus has been looking for a place to dock for over two weeks. It just arrived in Miami.
Seven passengers and five crew members have tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the Coral Princess, according to multiple reports, and two people aboard the ship died overnight. For the last several days, more than 1,000 passengers have been holed up in their cabins, self-isolating to keep from infecting each other.
The captain announced the two fatalities to the ship’s passengers on Saturday morning.
“I know how difficult this news is to bear, but given the current situation, we remain committed to transparent and consistent communication with you,” he said in the announcement, which was obtained by the Washington Post. “This information will need to be shared with shoreside authorities and will become public, so I wanted you to hear it from me first.”
The captain reportedly did not confirm that the passengers died of coronavirus, but said they were being treated at the ship’s medical center when they died.
People in need of hospitalization will disembark first. Anyone who’s ill but doesn’t need to go to the hospital immediately will stay on the ship, under care of doctors, and be allowed to get off only after they’ve recovered. Passengers deemed “fit to fly” will be shuttled to the Miami International Airport to catch flights home.
The Coral Princess was on a South American cruise, leaving port from Santiago, Chile on March 5 and scheduled to dock in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 19. But as ports shuttered as the coronavirus spread, it’s been sailing around, looking for a port that would take it.
The pandemic has effectively shut down the entire cruise industry: on March 15, the CDC issued a no-sail order on all cruise ships in the U.S. But there are still tons of cruise ships at sea looking for a place to dock. This week hundreds of ships waited off the coast of Florida, looking for a port that would allow their passengers ashore.
Cruises around the world have become petri dishes for the virus, some with hundreds of reported cases aboard. On a single ship, the Diamond Princess, 712 people became infected with the virus, but nearly half were asymptomatic according to the Centers for Disease Control. It was quarantined at a port in Japan last month and eight people who were aboard died. In Australia, authorities allowed passengers from a cruise ship to disembark in Sydney without quarantining last month. More than 400 of them since have fallen ill.
Over the last three weeks, the Coast Guard has been involved with coordinating the return to shore of 120,000 cruise ship passengers on 120 boats, but it’s an unwieldy industry to shut down entirely. As of Saturday, the Coast Guard said there were still 41 ships approaching U.S. ports, carrying a total of 41,000 people.
“Pausing a global tourist industry does not happen instantaneously or easily,” said Vice Admiral Dan Abel, Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Operations, in a statement on Saturday.
C__over: Passengers wearing protective masks look out from their balcony on the Coral Princess cruise ship while docked at PortMiami during the new coronavirus outbreak, Saturday, April 4, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)