Coronavirus: Fears on cruise ship docked at Italian port after case confirmed

Coronavirus: Fears on cruise ship docked at Italian port after case confirmed
Civitavecchia mayor Ernesto Tedesco and police officers give a press conference in front of the ship on Wednesday. Photo: AFP
Despite the protests of the local mayor, a cruise ship carrying hundreds of quarantined international holidaymakers docked at an Italian port on Wednesday.

Passenners on the Costa Victoria have been confined to their cabins after one woman tested positive and disembarked in Greece sparking fears among those on board.

“We're all very, very, very concerned,” Dutch passenger Hans Rijkelijkhuizen told AFP from aboard the Costa Victoria, after it docked in Civitavecchia near Rome, despite the mayor saying none of the passengers “will be allowed in my town.”

The vessel has been looking for a safe port after evacuating an Argentine woman who fell ill with respiratory problems.

The 726 passengers were placed in lockdown in their cabins on Monday after the woman, 63, was taken off the ship in Crete.

Passengers on board the ship as it docked on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

“There are lots of people on board with a temperature,” said Rijkelijkhuizen, 78, who was on the cruise with his 74-year old wife.

Rijkelijkhuizen, who had a slight fever and a cough, said many, including he and his wife, had been given paracetamol by the ship doctor.

“Do we have the virus? We don't know,” he said, standing on the tiny balcony of his cabin in a red wind jacket.

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Briton Rimal Shah, 56, was on the ship with 18 friends from London – most of them in their 70s with pre-existing health conditions.

There was “a lot of anxiety on board”, said Shah.

“That woman with the coronavirus will have been roaming the ship for days before being disembarked,” he told AFP.

The liner had been due to sail to Venice, but frightened passengers had begged not to be taken to northern Italy, which has been hit hardest by the outbreak.

“They wanted to take us into the mouth of the virus,” Shah said.

Italian health authorities boarded the Victoria on its arrival, but Rijkelijkhuizen said the passengers had not been tested.

A masked police officer pictures in front of the ship.. Photo: AFP

He and the Spanish and German couples in his neighbouring cabins waited anxiously for news, picking at their lunch of pasta, chips, rice and king prawns.

Most of the liner's balconies were empty. On one, a lone figure could be seen jogging on the spot for exercise.

A message in multiple languages over loudspeaker called passengers from specific decks to the ship's theatre to have their temperatures taken, while warning all others: “Stay in your cabins.”

Civitavecchia's mayor Ernesto Tedesco said he had tried to stop the liner, which has a large number of Australian and French passengers, from docking – but had been overruled.

Those given the green light to disembark would be allowed off on Thursday morning, he said.

“I expect anyone with the virus to be quarantined on the ship. Those who disembark will not be allowed in my town. I don't want suitcase-wheeling tourists here,” he said.

Civitavecchia mayor Ernesto Tedesco pictures in front of the ship on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Those allowed off the Victoria would likely be put on coaches and taken directly to Rome's Fiumicino airport, the mayor said.

Shah said he had been lobbying the British government to fly his group home

He had repeatedly requested Costa cancel the cruise early in the month-long trip, when stop after stop was cancelled, but had been “stonewalled”.

Another Costa cruise ship with suspected coronavirus cases, the Diadema, was also making its way to Italy. It is expected to arrive in Civitavecchia on Friday.

The 1,255 people on board were all crew members and had been isolated in their cabins, Costa said, after a crew member who was disembarked in Dubai on March 13 tested positive.

Another with breathing difficulties had since also been disembarked and hospitalised, while five more were showing flu-like symptoms, the company said.


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