First posted 27 March 2020, updated 30 March 2020
What a weekend: The Artania and other cruisers – an evolving story!
Bear with us, it’s a bit complex.
Phoenix Reisen, the German tour company that charters the cruise ship Artania, reported on its website on Wednesday 25 March 2020, that the Artania cruise ship was on her way back to Germany from Australia ‘with 832 guests and no reported virus cases aboard.’
The same day, the Premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, said that the ship, then anchored off Fremantle, had requested help with testing of patients for the coronavirus; but no passengers would be allowed off ‘unless they had a life threatening condition’.
After the disastrous Ruby Princess Covid infection stories out of Sydney, there was no way the Premier was going to encourage any cruisers from foreign climes to steam to Fremantle with the expectation of unloading passengers.
Then, on late Thursday, 26 March, ABC News reported that ‘The MV Artania cruise ship will berth in Fremantle Port after a male passenger had a serious medical emergency on board.’ Television later showed a man being removed to a support vessel in Gage Roads, not at the Port.
The Artania then, having transferred the ill passenger at sea, proceeded into Fremantle harbour and docked in (a near-empty) Port later on Thursday. During the evening she made a grand sight, all her lights ablaze. You’d have been forgiven for thinking she was a lost Sydney Mardi Gras float!
By the next morning, Friday 27 March, The West Australian newspaper was reporting that passengers from the Artania were soon to fly home via Perth airport. This made sense of the overnight docking manoeuvre.
The Australian Financial Review also reported on Friday morning that –
‘The breakthrough on the remaining Artania passengers came after WA premier Mark McGowan took a hardline on letting it dock at Fremantle port.
‘The ship’s operator … has told passengers they will be transferred home from Australia on chartered flights leaving this weekend.
‘Under the deal between Australia and the German embassy here, the flights will take the passengers to Frankfurt.
‘Most of the passengers on board are German, but Austrian and Swiss passport holders will also travel to Frankfurt on the mercy flights.’
The Fin Review further reported that WA and the federal government appeared ‘at odds’ over the fate of seven confirmed COVID-19 cases on board the Artania, with WA pushing for them to be transferred to the HMAS Stirling naval base at Garden Island, just south of Fremantle, for treatment.
At the same time, the Premier renewed earlier demands that another cruise ship, the MSC Magnifica – which had also turned up at Fremantle, and finished up anchored offshore for a period after being denied entry to Fremantle and then by Dubai – leave WA waters. All starting to look like a Panamanian stand-off.
As it transpired, there were no Australians on either the Artania or among the passengers on board the Magnifica.
Coincidentally, on Friday morning one of our readers noticed that an Australian Navy submarine appeared to be circling in local waters. And then on Saturday another naval vessel was also spotted in the vicinity of the cruise ships. What (contrived) excitement! Of course, the presence of these vessels is not at all surprising given the proximity of the shipping channels to the naval base.
By then a third cruise ship, the Vasco da Gama, was also steaming towards Fremantle with 950 passengers, including 798 Australians and a bunch of Kiwis, on board. There were no reports of illness on board. (A hardy bunch of ANZACS obviously.) But what to do with them?
And while all that was happening another cruiser, The World, a big ‘yacht’ that had been sailing the world before Covid caused her effectively to stop in her tracks off Freo, was also anchored in Gage Roads. Her wealthy, Covid-free passengers had been allowed to disembark and head to their other, land-based homes some week or so before this latest drama. She now sat silently staring at the night stars trying to work out which way was home.
Then everything started to move. Or as they say in the classics, the proverbial hit the fan.
We should add that it transpired that there were two, not just one, seriously ill passengers on the Artania. The first was indeed evacuated at sea Thursday afternoon and taken to hospital for assessment and treatment. After the Artania later docked in Fremantle Port on the Thursday, the second ill passenger was evacuated and also taken to hospital. Neither was thought, at that stage, to be affected by Covid-19.
Friday night turned out to be a busy night at the Port. Residents reported hearing helicopters tap,tap,tapping and sirens blaring a good part of the night. Older residents might well have thought the sirens were air raid warnings and they were under air attack.
Along the way, after testing on board, seven passengers on the Artania were reported to be Covid positive. No doubt they were also transported to hospital for assessment and treatment soon after the ship docked. One assumes this happened in the dead of night.
In the clear light of Saturday morning it further transpired that many more Artania passengers than the initially identified seven, and some crew, were also showing Covid like symptoms, some 70 at first report. By Sunday, the number of confirmed further coronavirus cases was reduced to the 40s, including the two earlier ill evacuees.
The idea then was that those passengers not infected by the virus should be airlifted from Perth to Frankfurt ASAP. As of today, Monday, we understand that has happened.
What was to happen with the infected folk from the Artania, however, remained a question. After further negotiations involving the Commonwealth, the Premier announced Saturday that they would be hospitalised at two Perth private hospitals. An earlier idea to house them at another, State controlled facility was abandoned, presumably in light of the increased number of Covid patients.
In many ways all this drama adds up to a goodnews story, as well as a good news story. While many Australian citizens are understandably nervous/highly anxious/paranoid about any measures that might see an increased spread of Covid-19 in Perth and Fremantle, and Western Australia more generally, that might rival that evident in New York, Italy or Spain, or anywhere else on the planet really, there was always a humanitarian dimension to the plight of the Artania passengers, because of the ill and Covid infected ones. Would Australians really want to see their citizens refused entry and treatment in similar circumstances at a foreign port if the tables were turned – as in the case of the medicos and dentists who found themselves in similar circumstances recently in South America (and now returned to Australia)? No, would be the correct answer, one suggests.
So judgements were formed, and compromises were made.
Anyway, there we are.
We have, in Perth now, via Fremantle Port, more Covid-confirmed people than we did before the Artania arrived. But it does appear the Artania story is now at an end; well, let’s hope so. Let’s hope the infected passengers recover soon and can soon return to their loved ones in their countries of origin.
What then of the other cruise ships that have received so much recent attention?
Well, The World still sits in Gage Roads, attended by a crew but no passengers, still staring at the stars and presumably awaiting instructions from her owners on what to do next.
The Seabourn Encore, which had been sitting off Garden Island for a number of days, steamed away for Colombo late Saturday evening – passenger-less.
The MSC Magnifica, chock full of passengers, none of whom are Australian, left late Sunday afternoon to much social media fanfare, including on the Fremantle Shipping News Facebook page. Her advertised destination is Colombo, although Port Louis, Mauritius appeared on some information. We’ll see where she goes finally, soon.
The Premier’s firm resolve from the outset was that Magnifica’s passengers would not be allowed to disembark at Fremantle. He got his way. For its part, MSC Cruises always insisted it had no plans to allow either passengers or crew to disembark in Fremantle and that ‘all passengers and crew on board are well’. We will watch that space with interest.
The Vasco da Gama was initially expected to dock in Fremantle Port today, Monday, with her predominantly Australian passenger list. But in the end she was allowed to dock on Friday. The belief is she has no virus issues. The passengers though were not permitted to disembark, but were permitted to wave to family and friends, and curious onlookers. ‘Not leaving, waving’.
The Premier then announced that the plan was for the WA-resident passengers on Vasco to be transferred by islander ferries to Rottnest Island and to be quarantined there for 14 days. As an aside, the weather looks pretty good on Rotto for the next 14 days. And the word is there are good numbers of crayfish to be found in Salmon Bay, which – by the by – probably should be renamed ‘Cray Bay.’
The other Australian passengers from Vasco haven’t been forgotten in this leisure-planning exercise: they get to hole up at some of Perth’s smarter hotels for a fortnight of R&R before flying to their home’s beyond WA borders.
One assumes Mr Papalia, the WA Tourism Minister, will soon have a new selfies campaign underway involving these new Aussie tourists on Rotto and in Perth’s hotels. After all, domestic tourism is likely to be the mainstay of tourism once Covid is behind us.
Oh, and all the Kiwis have been sent home, but by the sound of it they have 14 days of isolation ahead of them in the land of the long white cloud.
So, there we are – for the time being at least.
The wrap? Here it is.
As of today, Monday 30 March –
-Vasco sends her passengers down the gangway en route to their various temporary destinations.
-Seabourn Encore has steamed away for Colombo.
-Magnifica has huffed her way off to Colombo, or Mauritius.
-The Artania remains but will head off soon, with a crew but no passengers. Word has it she’s off to Phuket. Why? No idea.
-And finally, the lost The World remains, apparently lost to the world.
So, what’s to become of The World? Who knows. Perhaps Mr Papalia should start a campaign for WA to adopt her as a post-Covid tourist attraction, a reminder of what a crazy time we all had in the time of Covid. Or perhaps she could be scuttled and become a fabulous dive wreck?
Talk about an evolving story …
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