Vietnam turns away two cruise ships over coronavirus fears

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has denied permission to dock for two cruise ships amid fears of coronavirus infections on board, according to state media, ship tracking websites and messages posted to social media by passengers.

Because of the virus, many cruises in Southeast Asia are being cancelled while others currently sailing are being re-routed, skipping originally scheduled stops in China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Authorities in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province, home to the UNESCO world heritage site Ha Long Bay, decided on Tuesday not to allow passengers of the German-owned AIDAvita cruise ship to disembark on Thursday, the state Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said.

“The vessel has docked in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, which have all reported coronavirus cases,” VNA said.

“Not allowing AIDIvita’s passengers to disembark (in Vietnam) is just a temporary solution to prevent the intrusion of diseases,” VNA cited a local official as saying.

Germany’s AIDA Cruises, the owner of the AIDAvita, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. AIDA Cruises is a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp.

The cruise liner left the Philippines port of Coron on Feb. 10 bound for Vietnam via the South China Sea, according to data published by the Marine Traffic ship tracking website.

It had been scheduled to visit Ha Long Bay, in northern Vietnam, on Saturday, then proceed to the Vietnamese ports of Da Nang, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City from Feb. 16-20, according to CruiseMapper, a website which tracks cruise ships.

As of Friday evening, the AIDAvita was 176 km (109 miles) south of the Thai capital Bangkok, according to Marine Traffic.

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Stoking fears in countries that usually allow cruise ships to dock is the quarantine in Japan of the Diamond Princess, also managed by a unit of Carnival Corp. Of the 3,700 passengers and crew on that vessel, 218 have tested positive for the virus.

Passengers on another Carnival Corp cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries, including Thailand, over coronavirus fears, before they began to disembark in Cambodia on Friday.

The Norwegian Jade, operated by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, was also denied permission to dock in Vietnam, passengers on board the ship said in Twitter messages, but its captain said there were no virus cases on board.

“We have very strict protocols in place, there is no illness onboard the ship and no guests or crew members on the ship who hold Chinese, Macau or Hong Kong passports or have visited or transited through any of these areas,” captain Frank Juliussen said in a letter sent to passengers aboard the Norwegian Jade.

“Still, the port has proven to be unreasonable during this process and late last night informed us that despite previously approving our calls and despite the actions we’ve taken to accommodate their new protocols, that they are denying our upcoming calls,” Juliussen said, according to a copy of the letter posted on Twitter by a passenger.

It was not known which Vietnamese port he was referring to.

Norwegian Cruise Line did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment.

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Vietnamese port management authorities refused to comment and referred calls from Reuters to local port authorities in Vietnam, where telephone calls went unanswered.

FILE PHOTO: Women sit in a street as they wear face masks in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Yen Duong

On Friday evening, the Norwegian Jade was heading for the port of Laem Chabang in Thailand, according to data published by the Marine Traffic ship tracking website.

The ship had been sailing north in the South China Sea along the coast of southern and central Vietnam as recently as Wednesday until it reversed course and embarked on a new heading towards Thailand, according to the data.

The coronavirus has killed more than 1,380 people, almost all in China where the outbreak originated, with one each in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan.

Reporting by Khanh Vu and James Pearson



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