A cruise ship that had a reservation to stop at Hilo Harbor later this week will be docking elsewhere.
The ship’s plans created a flurry of coronavirus concerns on social media. But late Monday, the state Department of Transportation issued a statement saying the Hilo reservation was canceled.
The statement said the DOT “is working with the vessel’s agent regarding a new reservation, however Honolulu Harbor is the preferred port (DOT) will accept.”
“To date, there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 associated with the ship,” the statement said. “The vessel will have been at sea longer than the 14 day incubation period prior to arriving in Hawaii. The vessel’s leadership is required to report any symptomatic passengers prior to arriving in Hawaiian waters. If there are concerns with passengers the ship can be held out of port.”
In an effort to minimize the further spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic, British-American cruise company Holland America Line announced last week that it would cancel all cruises scheduled to depart through April 14, while cruises currently in progress would conclude early, where possible.
One of those cruises in progress was a planned monthlong odyssey on the MS Maasdam that departed March 1 from Auckland, New Zealand. Instead of disembarking as scheduled April 3 in San Diego as originally slated, it planned to arrive Friday at Hilo Harbor.
The news that the ship might arrive in Hilo — after dozens of other ships canceled port calls for fear of spreading the coronavirus — elicited worried and angry responses on social media, with many calling for the ship to be redirected or even for civilian vessels to physically block the Maasdam’s entrance to the harbor.
Earlier Monday, State Sen. Lorraine Inouye, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Transportation, issued a statement assuring constituents that the DOT was recommending the ship be redirected to Honolulu, where passengers would immediately depart by air to their homes after disembarking.
“This is a humanitarian issue, as we can’t just let these passengers remain at sea for prolonged periods of time especially if they do not have any COVID-19 infected persons,” Inouye said.
A statement from Holland America Line confirmed that there are 842 guests and 542 crew aboard the Maasdam. Those guests will be required to make arrangements to return home after the ship docks; Holland America will re-book guests who booked air accommodations through the cruise line, and will assist those who made their own arrangements, as needed.
But finding flights back home could be troublesome for international passengers, as major airlines cancel thousands of flights and nations around the world begin restricting travel.
One passenger aboard the Maasdam told a newspaper in her United Kingdom hometown of Worthing that she cannot be certain whether she will be quarantined on arrival because of President Donald Trump’s recent ban on all travel from Europe.
“There are a lot of rumors circling around that the people of Hawaii are asking a flotilla of boats to block us from coming in,” the woman, Terri Shanks, told the Worthing Herald.
Currently, and despite rumors to the contrary, Hawaii ports have not been closed, Kunishige said, and the spate of cruise cancellations is the result of a voluntary decision by cruise lines and the Cruise Lines International Association to suspend operations.
Gov. David Ige briefly addressed the Maasdam during a Monday news conference about COVID-19, saying his administration is investigating what kind of health screenings can be conducted on disembarking passengers.
“We’re evaluating what we can do, and see what kind of screening … the industry is doing,” Ige said. “You know, they are required now to have physicians on the craft. We’re looking at what we can do to further screen people getting off of the ships.”
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