Multiple Ports Move to Restrict Cruise Ship Arrivals Due to COVID-19

The UAE has banned cruise ship arrivals due to the perceived risk of COVID-19 (Abu Dhabi Cruise Port / file image)

Published Mar 12, 2020 7:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

An increasing number of local and national governments are taking steps to restrict or ban cruise line arrivals over concerns about the novel coronavirus epidemic. Two cruise vessels, Diamond Princess and Grand Princess, have been quarantined in connection with the disease, and many others have been denied port entry due to perceived coronavirus risks. 

The government of Spain has announced a ban on cruise ship calls at Spanish seaports between March 13 and March 26, with a brief exemption for vessels disembarking passengers to  return home. All passenger ships arriving from Italy - where a major outbreak is under way - are banned for the same period. The government left open the possibility that it could extend the ban, depending upon the course of the epidemic. 

In Norway, the national government is moving quickly to clamp down on a rapidly growing number of coronavirus cases, and it is asking all people arriving from outside of Scandinavia to self-quarantine for 14 days. As of yet there is no national directive aimed directly at the cruise sector, but at the local level, the ports of Bergen and Stavanger will no longer allow passengers to disembark from cruise ships. The cruise ship AIDAaura may be the first vessel affected: she was scheduled to call Bergen on Thursday, but AIS records indicate that she has skipped that call and is now under way for her home port of Hamburg. 

In the United States, the small ports of Santa Barbara and Monterey, California have asked cruise lines to voluntarily cancel upcoming port calls due to the outbreak. Hawaii lieutenant governor Josh Green has indicated interest in implementing an administrative ban, but state officials said Wednesday that that power lies exclusively with the federal government. “We don’t have the authority or jurisdiction to allow or deny entry to ships,” said State of Hawaii transportation director Jade Butay in a webcast on Wednesday. “It’s the U.S. Coast Guard who’s in charge of the port of entry.”

In the UAE, port officials have banned all cruise ship arrivals. The measure is part of a broader set of UAE health policies, including a warning discouraging all residents from traveling abroad and a nationwide school closure. Celebrity Cruises told The Independent that decisions by the Indian government and the UAE had led them to end Celebrity Constellation's current global cruise early. 

In India, the port of Chennai has issued a pre-emptive ban on "unscheduled international cruise ships," defined as all vessels which did not declare an intention to call Chennai prior to January 1. Port officials told The Hindu that this was a national directive. 

Taiwan took the step of banning all international cruise ships in early February, shortly after the discovery of the outbreak aboard Diamond Princess. The Diamond Princess called in Keelung, Taiwan on January 31, and four days later she was held in Yokohama for coronavirus testing. 10 passengers initially tested positive for the disease, and about 700 were diagnosed over the course of two weeks of shipboard quarantine.