‘Sailing With Covid’

By Michael Barker
Editor, Fremantle Shipping News

‘Sailing with Covid’. A version of ‘Living with Covid’.

We debate whether or not we must ‘live with Covid’. Some say it’s a ‘given’. Perhaps it is.

But ‘Sailing with Covid’ certainly is not. You can choose to go sailing on a cruise ship, or to find some other adventures to keep your adventurous spirits satisfied that are less sensitive to a Covid outbreak, especially with the new Omicron variant still working its way around the planet.

Just now though, as the North American winter sets in, many folk in northern climes like the idea of escaping the cold and the snow and the ice. Heading south to Florida is a good start, and why so many like to live there right on the Atlantic.

Even better, for many, is getting on a cruise liner out of Fort Lauderdale and exploring the Caribbean. Or if it’s easier for you to go to the Pacific side of the continent, finding your way to Southern California in search of a cruise liner sailing south to Mexico.

After a bit of a stoush a few months back between the US Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC – and the State of Florida, about which we reported to you at the time, the cruise industry got underway again.

So how has it all been going? you ask. Good question.

Here’s some very recent, slightly worrying reports of sailing with Covid.

Agence France-Presse, along with a number of North American media outlets, have been reporting over the past few days that US authorities have been monitoring dozens of cruise ships hit by Covid cases while sailing in US waters, with several of them reportedly denied entry to ports in the Caribbean.

Over 60 vessels were under observation after “reported cases of COVID-19 have met the threshold for CDC investigation,” the CDC said.

The Washington Post has also reported that several cruise liners were denied port at their scheduled destinations.

One of them, the Carnival Freedom, was turned away from the Caribbean island of Bonaire, the Post reported.

Freedom. Credit Wikipedia

Carnival confirmed that “a small number on board were isolated due to a positive COVID test.”

“The rapid spread of the omicron variant may shape how some destination authorities with limited medical resources may view even a small number of cases, even when they are being managed with our vigorous protocols,” the company said.

The Freedom arrived in Miami Sunday morning, disembarked all ‘guests’ and “will depart on its next voyage as planned,” the company added.

Earlier this week, 55 people tested positive for Covid aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise.

The infections spread among passengers and crew members on the Odyssey of the Seas despite 95% of the people on board being vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to Royal Caribbean.

Ovation of the Seas, a sister Quantum class cruiser to Odyssey of the Seas, in Fremantle , October 2018. Credit Fremantle Shipping News, Deanna Shanahan

The ship did not dock at the Caribbean islands of Curacao and Aruba, the last scheduled stops on its eight-day voyage out of precaution. Rather, it returned to port at Fort Lauderdale on Sunday.

In another case, reported by CNN, Mexican officials prevented the Holland America Line Koningsdam from letting its passengers disembark in Puerto Vallarta last Thursday after 21 crew members tested positive for Covid. A “small number of fully vaccinated crew” tested positive and all showed either mild or no symptoms, Holland America Line told CNN.

So, while passengers and crew must be largely, if not wholly, fully vaccinated as a condition of embarking on cruises, the protocol plainly isn’t foolproof given the infectious nature of Covid strains, and probably it doesn’t take into account the particularly infectious Omicron variant now making people think twice before putting their feet back on a cruise liner’s gang plank.

Just how the Australian Government will assess the challenges of international cruising from Australian ports over the next little while remains to be seen.

Wholly Australian cruises seem like a good way to go, if you must.

We will keep on monitoring progress in the cruising industry.

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* By Michael Barker, Editor, Fremantle Shipping News