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Princess Cruise Ship Temporarily Delayed for Coronavirus Testing

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Diamond Princess (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 02-03-2020 06:15:00

The novel coronavirus strain that originated in Wuhan in late December continues to affect maritime operations - not only in China but in seaports around the world, with health authorities on the lookout for possible cases of infection among passengers and seafarers. 

In Yokohama, the cruise ship Diamond Princess has been temporarily delayed for a health inspection after one former passenger from the vessel tested positive for the coronavirus. All 2,666 passengers and 1,045 members of her crew are under quarantine for at least 24 hours while tests are under way. 

The passenger in question - an 80-year-old resident of Hong Kong - boarded the vessel in Yokohama, Japan on January 20 and disembarked in Hong Kong on January 25. He tested positive at a hospital in Hong Kong on February 1. According to Princess Cruises, he did not visit the ship's medical center while he was on board. He is now in stable condition, and the family members who accompanied him on board the vessel have not exhibited any symptoms. 

The delay for Diamond Princess is not the first cruise ship quarantine related to a suspected coronavirus case. On January 30, health authorities at the port of Civitavecchia, Italy briefly quarantined 6,000 cruise passengers while testing one individual for the possibility of a coronavirus infection aboard the Costa Smeralda. A 54-year-old woman from Macau developed flu-like symptoms while on board the ship, and the vessel's medical staff alerted Italian officials. The woman tested negative for the disease and the passengers were allowed to depart. 

Industry-wide effects

The effects of the outbreak have been felt throughout the cruise industry. At least five cruise lines have canceled sailings or altered itineraries to avoid Chinese ports, including Royal Caribbean, which announced that its annual earnings per share would fall by at least $0.10 due to the disruption. Worldwide, members of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) have suspended crew movements from mainland China and are denying boarding to anyone who has traveled in mainland China within the past two weeks. 

Financially, the disruption is expected to have an outsize effect for cruise lines, as their business depends upon the general public's willingness and ability to travel. Carnival Corporation's stock price has fallen by 17 percent over the past two weeks, pulled down by concerns that the coronavirus outbreak may cut into bookings and earnings.

For merchant shipping, the outbreak has meant limitations on crew changes at Chinese ports, along with new restrictions on seafarers who have traveled in China. The Port of Singapore Authority is denying permission to disembark to any crewmembers with passports from Hubei province, and all seafarers leaving PSA terminals have to undergo temperature screening (and the possibility of quarantine in the event of a suspected case). All visitors who have been to China, Hong Kong or Macau within the past two weeks are being denied entry to the port. 

For some cargo interests, slowdowns at Chinese ports have meant delays in shipments. As a public health measure, the Chinese government has called for an extension of the Lunar New Year holiday for an additional week, creating labor shortages and slowdowns at some terminal facilities. Most large Chinese seaports are reported to be waiving storage fees for containers that have been affected by the delay. 

Vessel and crew restrictions in the United States

Coronavirus-related travel restrictions are also having an impact on shipping outside of China. On Friday, the United States banned entry for all foreign nationals who have been in mainland China within the past two weeks, and in a circular issued Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard noted that this applies to maritime arrivals as well.

According to the Coast Guard, any passenger-carrying vessel which has been to mainland China or has embarked passengers who have been in China within the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States. If no passengers have been in China within 14 days and all are symptom free, the vessel will be permitted to enter the United States. As per federal law, any sick or ill crewmembers must be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prior to arrival. 

Non-passenger merchant vessels which have been to mainland China or have crewmembers who have been in China will still be permitted to enter the U.S. and conduct normal operations, so long as they have no ill crewmembers aboard. These vessels face new restrictions, however: their crewmembers are required to remain aboard except for cargo handling or provisioning operations.

If any crewmember who has been in mainland China within the past 14 days is brought on board prior to arrival, the Coast Guard considers it a "hazardous condition," and it must be reported to the Captain of the Port. 

Ships, passengers and seafarers who have visited Hong Kong and Macau (but not mainland China) are not covered by these restrictions.