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Cruise ships on horizon make a startling change for sunbathers

March 23, 2020 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Visitors to Wollongong beaches have long been used to seeing cargo ships on the horizon, lining up to load coal at Port Kembla – until last week, when the view changed abruptly and several sleek cruise ships joined the freighters.

As many as four cruise ships were visible on Friday.

“What are they doing?” locals asked. Suggestions ranged from ships full of passengers waiting to disembark, to largely empty vessels manned by skeleton crews, fleeing an outbreak of coronavirus.

Several cruise ships, reportedly including Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, were berthed at Port Kembla last week as government health regulations relating to COVID-19 coronavirus disrupted cruise schedules.

The Illawarra Mercury quoted Wollongong councillor Leigh Colacino, speaking in his capacity as chair of Cruise Wollongong, saying the Port Kembla berthing program demonstrated the strong relationship between the cruise industry and the port.

“I think it’s great that Port Kembla can offer this,” Colacino told the paper. “This is our time to give back to the cruise lines in their time of need. These ships have to be anchored somewhere around the world at this time.”

That doesn’t explain why the ships were at sea rather than in port. That was a point of conjecture among bathers (observing social distancing) on Austinmer Beach. The consensus was that while being in port involved port charges, being at sea didn’t.

Cruise ship on horizon on Saturday, from end of Austinmer sea pool

A local rule of thumb in Wollongong is that you can tell how well the economy is doing by how many freighters are lined up on the horizon waiting to dock at Port Kembla. Sometimes the total is more than 12. An inverse rule would seem to apply to cruising. It is not a good sign to see lots of cruise ships bobbing about within sight of land, seemingly aimlessly – even though cruise ships are usually more attractive than freighters.

Later in the weekend, more alarming cruise ship news broke. Four people aboard the cruise ship Ruby Princess tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, after many hundreds of passengers left the ship and headed off into Sydney. One confirmed case was a crew member who was allowed to reboard the cruise ship, “which is at sea between Sydney and Wollongong” the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged all 2647 passengers and 1148 crew who were aboard Ruby Princess on its most recent cruise to self-isolate immediately and contact health authorities if they develop symptoms.

The Australian newspaper is reporting that the Ruby Princess “had previously been sailing with 158 sick passengers on board”. The Australian reported those 158 passengers, of which 13 had high temperatures, had disembarked in Sydney on 8 March 2020 before the ship left for the short cruise around New Zealand.

The Ruby Princess has been identified as a key vector, along with backpacker parties in Bondi, in yesterday’s record rise in COVID-19 infections in NSW, the Guardian reported. Australia yesterday recorded its largest single-day increase in infections since the outbreak began.


Austinmer Beach last month, before social distancing rules took force

The Sydney Morning Herald said four separate cruises had been identified as being affected by COVID-19, in addition to the Ruby Princess. Victims of the virus included a 67-year-old man aboard Ovation of the Seas, a 66-year-old man on Voyager of the Seas and a man on a Celebrity Solstice cruise.

The passengers aboard the three cruises are being contacted and are advised to self-quarantine and be alert for symptoms.

Meanwhile, four freighters were visible from Austinmer Beach on Sunday. The cruise ships had all gone.

On Monday, three cruise ships were back again!


Written by Peter Needham

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