Coronavirus-Hit Grand Princess Docks in Oakland (10 MAR 2020)

The cruise ship Grand Princess, with over 20 passengers and crew on board who tested positive for COVID-19, docked at the Port of Oakland’s Outer Harbor Terminal on March 9. 

State and federal officials picked Oakland as the best place for docking and disembarkation of passengers, as the port’s Outer Harbor Terminal is currently not being used for vessel or cargo operations.

The port authority said that health officials would be screening passengers aboard the ship, before allowing them to disembark in small clusters to ensure a 6-foot safety zone between people.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources managing the incident, the transmission of the virus only happens within an approximately 6-foot radius.

Passengers will be wearing masks during this operation while at the port, as a precautionary measure.

“Upon disembarking, passengers will be evaluated in a secured, 10.85-acre examination area adjacent to where the ship berths. Once evaluations take place, passengers will be transported away from the port in charter buses on traffic routes that avoid residential locations. The berth and screening area will be disinfected at the close of the operation,” the port authority added.

The infected people will be relocated to hospitals, while others are planned to board a charter aircraft stationed on the ramp at Oakland Airport’s North Field.

It is planned for the ship to remain at the Port of Oakland only long enough for passengers to disembark and be medically evaluated and relocated away from the port. Following the operation, the ship and its crew will be moved to an undisclosed location away from the Port of Oakland.

“Once disembarkation of the guests is completed, the crew will remain onboard and Grand Princess will depart from San Francisco bay. Plans for a crew quarantine are still being determined,” Princess Cruises said on Sunday

 “We have full, normal operations at both the Seaport and Airport. The activity related to the Grand Princess will not take place near our other operations. People have rightly asked about preventative measures to minimize exposure risk during this extraordinary operation,” the port pointed out.

As informed, no port employee or direct contractor of the port would be allowed on the Grand Princess disembarkation area starting from the commencement of disembarkation until the operation has officially ended and the site is returned to the port.

The port authority reassured the public that at no time will any passengers or Grand Princess staff be outside of the ship without close medical supervision or federal/state escort.

“There will be no threat to the community from direct contact with any passengers or cruise ship staff. All equipment associated with this operation will be disinfected prior to demobilization at the pier and will not reside in any community location. Federal officials will be constantly evaluating risk during this operation and mitigating any potential breach of safety. Health and Human Services senior medical and safety staff will oversee all operations,” the port authority concluded.

The Grand Princess coronavirus outbreak is part of a state and national emergency declared by the State of California last week after one of the passengers who returned from a previous cruise onboard the Grand Princess died from COVID-19.

Since then, medical testing of 45 people onboard has been conducted, returning 21 positive samples, including two guests and 19 crew.

Increasing pressure on the cruise business

Cruise liners have been subjected to increasing pressure over the outbreak and they continue to struggle to maintain their itineraries due to docking restrictions being introduced by port authorities amid coronavirus fears.

The U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs had advised U.S. citizens, especially with underlying conditions, against traveling by cruise ship, amid increased risk of COVID19 on cruises.

There have also been some talks to restrict cruising in the United States to curb the outbreak.

Responding to such a measure, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said that any action to restrict cruising is unwarranted, and at odds with the World Health Organization which “continues to advise against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.”

Singling out the travel and tourism industry, and cruise lines specifically, would have a detrimental impact on the U.S. economy contributing nearly USD 53 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018, CLIA added.

“With the proactive measures in place by the cruise industry based on prevailing guidance from global health authorities, restricting cruising is unreasonable and will have long-lasting detrimental effects on the U.S. economy well beyond the travel and tourism industry,” the association said.

The impact on the cruise industry from the outbreak is already being sensed as numerous cruise operators are starting to cancel their sailings for the upcoming period, which will definitely impact earnings.

Princess Cruises alone has had to cancel dozens of sailings in Asia on board Diamond Princess, Majestic Princess, Sapphire Princess and Sun Princess on some ships extending into October 2020. The company has also canceled planned sailings for Grand Princess that were scheduled for March 7 and March 22.

Commenting on the reports that a Florida couple has launched a lawsuit against the company seeking compensation worth over USD 1 million over coronavirus outbreak, Princess Cruises told World Maritime News that it had not been served with any lawsuit.

According to CNN, the couple who were on board Grand Princess claims the company put profits over safety and did not have proper screening protocols in place.

“Princess has been sensitive to the difficulties the COVID-19 outbreak has caused to our guests and crew. Our response throughout this process has focused on well-being our guests and crew within the parameters mandated on us by the government agencies involved and the evolving medical understanding of this new illness. We have not been served with any lawsuit relating to this matter, and we will not comment on any pending litigation,” the company statement reads.

World Maritime News Staff