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Chaos in the Caribbean as ports turn away cruises on virus fears

  • Jonathan Levin and Ezra Fieser

    Bloomberg

Miami/Bogota   /   Fri, February 28, 2020   /   11:34 am
Chaos in the Caribbean as ports turn away cruises on virus fears A Royal Caribbean cruise ship sits docked at Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. More than two dozen Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. passengers were screened for coronavirus in New Jersey Friday and four were transferred to an area hospital -- the first such incident at a U.S. port and the latest to roil the tourism industry. ( Bloomberg/Christopher Occhicone)

The Dominican Republic turned away a cruise ship with about 1,500 people on board Thursday, the latest such episode as coronavirus concerns spread to tourist meccas in the Caribbean.

Local officials there refused to let passengers leave the Braemar Thursday after learning that some aboard the ship, operated by Bonheur ASA’s Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, were under observation for flu, cough and respiratory problems.

The company said no guests or crew had shown symptoms consistent with coronavirus, and that the move was an “overreaction.”

“We believe that this was as a result of a small number of influenza-like cases on board,” the company said.

Meanwhile, passengers aboard the MSC Meraviglia were awaiting test results in Cozumel, Mexico, after their ship was barred from docking in Jamaica and Grand Cayman.

The episodes underscore the heightened concern of public officials over coronavirus following confirmed cases on a ship in Asia. Previously, vessels had been turned away or quarantined in Asia and Europe, but the new incidents strike closer to home for US and Latin American authorities and threaten the US industry’s core market of the Caribbean.

The largest US-based operators -- Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. -- have lost about $31 billion in market value in about six weeks. Shares of Carnival, the industry giant, closed at their lowest in more than six years on Thursday. MSC Cruises, which operates the Meraviglia, is closely held, and Fred. Olsen is part of a larger company.

A performer demonstrates on a iFly Holdings LLC body flying tunnel on The Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship, operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s cruise line brand Royal Caribbean International (RCI), as the ship sits berthed at the Marina Bay Cruise Center in Singapore, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. For the better part of a decade, wealthy Chinese tourists have been on a feeding frenzy for luxury brands, casinos and cruise lines. As a result, China became the world’s biggest spender in international tourism in 2012, according to data from the World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency.A performer demonstrates on a iFly Holdings LLC body flying tunnel on The Spectrum of the Seas cruise ship, operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s cruise line brand Royal Caribbean International (RCI), as the ship sits berthed at the Marina Bay Cruise Center in Singapore, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. For the better part of a decade, wealthy Chinese tourists have been on a feeding frenzy for luxury brands, casinos and cruise lines. As a result, China became the world’s biggest spender in international tourism in 2012, according to data from the World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency. ( Bloomberg/Bryan van der Beek)

Risks come home

From the outset, cruise companies began to dial back their exposure in Asia, where the industry had a small but growing presence. But the spread to Europe -- and the risk to the Americas -- poses a greater risk to the companies, especially during what is typically peak booking season.

In Cozumel, health officials were awaiting test results for a crew member and a passenger aboard the Meraviglia. The ship sailed for Cozumel after it was turned away in Jamaica and Grand Cayman.

MSC Cruises said the ship would remain in Cozumel until results come in and was optimistic guests would be able to disembark on Friday for tourist activities.

For a time Wednesday it was unclear whether the government would allow the ship to moor.

MSC Cruises said it received “formal and final authorization” to dock. But overnight, state Governor Carlos Joaquin Gonzalez of Quintana Roo, where Cozumel is located, contradicted the company, saying no authorization would be given until after a health review.

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship sits docked at Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. A Royal Caribbean cruise ship sits docked at Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, U.S., on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. ( Bloomberg/Christopher Occhicone)

Welcome home

In Miami, where the MSC Cruise originated, Port Director Juan Kuryla said at a press conference Thursday that the ship was welcome back based on current information.

Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also weighed in Thursday, reiterating that the ship could dock but saying an inspection was called for.

“We’re permitting it to dock, and there may be a disembarking of those on the ship,” Lopez Obrador said at his morning press conference in Mexico City. “We gave instructions for an inspection to be done and that they be allowed to arrive and stay. We can’t act with discrimination.”

 

 


If you want to help in the fight against COVID-19, we have compiled an up-to-date list of community initiatives designed to aid medical workers and low-income people in this article. Link: [UPDATED] Anti-COVID-19 initiatives: Helping Indonesia fight the outbreak