In what had been beginning to look like a re-run of the Diamond Princess situation off Japan last month, 3,350 cruise ship passengers and crew on the Grand Princess (IMO 9104005) found themselves stuck ‘in limbo’ off San Francisco late last week, awaiting tests for coronavirus.
An initial test of 46 people deemed high-risk found that 19 crew and two passengers were infected. As a result the entire complement of crew and passengers will be tested.
However, the threat of being left 50 to 100 miles off San Franciso in a long-running holding pattern, a strategy initially favoured by the President and the Governor of California, was quietly withdrawn after the logistical difficulties and, with many Americans on board, the potential public relations downside, made it more practical to find a place where the vessel could berth, followed by a disembarkation and a quarantine on land.
The lack of centralized control in the US in response to the outbreak of Covid-19 has been causing problems, with mixed messages emanating from companies, individual states, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), the Vice-President and President.
On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that the Grand Princess would remain at sea until all passengers and crew complaining of flu-like symptoms during a 15-day roundtrip cruise to Hawaii could be tested for possible coronavirus infection.
That statement proved inoperative within 36 hours. On Saturday evening Princess Cruise Line officials said that the vessel would head for a secure dock in Oakland, where the passengers would disembark and would be taken to a quarantined facility. However, after the statement was made, Princess Cruise Line issued another release, stating that “CDC has just informed us that further modifications of the plan are necessary and will impact the arrival of the ship. The ship will now arrive in the Port of Oakland on Monday, time TBD.”
Grand Princess is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, a unit of Carnival Corp, as was the Diamond Princess.
Disembarkation is likely to take at least two days, and possibly more.
The current plan, according to the office of the Governor of California is that, following health screenings, guests who are California residents will go to a federally operated facility within California for testing and isolation, while non-Californians will be transported by the federal government to facilities in other states. Crew will be quarantined and treated aboard the ship.”
Although Texas has been mooted as a possible location for the quarantined passengers, once again the devolved power structure in the US could cause problems, with state governors and federal Senators putting their constituents’ interests first.
Last Thursday California State and local officials acted after learning that 35 people aboard the ship had fallen ill, and that two passengers who had travelled on the same vessel for a voyage last month between San Francisco and Mexico later tested positive for coronavirus.
Tests will also be given to dozens of holdover passengers from the Mexico trip who stayed on the ship for the voyage to Hawaii, as well as “guests currently under care for respiratory illness,” the cruise line said.
They also were seeking to contact some 2,500 passengers who disembarked in San Francisco on February 21st after the earlier 10-day cruise to Mexico. One of them, a Canadian woman from the province of Alberta, tested positive for the virus this week. Eleven passengers in total on that trip had been found to be infected, as of Sunday morning. There were concerns that this could have been the source of the infection for crew. Some of those crew have also worked on another vessel, increasing concerns.
Princess Cruises has cancelled the next scheduled departure of its Grand Princess Hawaii voyage from San Francisco, which had been set for March 7th.
1998-built, Bermuda-flagged, 107,517 gt Grand Princess is owned by Fairline Shipping International Corp care of Princess Cruise Lines Ltd of Valencia, California. It is entered with Steamship Mutual and UK P&I Club.