February 14, 2020 / 12:04 PM / 5 days ago

Vietnam turns away two cruise ships over coronavirus fears

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam has denied two cruise ships permission to dock due to fears of coronavirus infections on board, Vietnamese state media and a cruise operator reported on Friday.

One of the ships was now heading towards Thailand, where it would be allowed to dock, a Thai official said.

Authorities in Vietnam’s Quang Ninh province - home to the UNESCO world heritage site Ha Long Bay - barred passengers on the German-owned AIDAvita cruise ship to disembark on Thursday, the 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 AIDAvita’s passengers to disembark 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 respond to requests for comment. AIDA Cruises is a subsidiary of Miami-based Carnival Corp (CCL.N).

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

It had been scheduled to visit Ha Long Bay 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 website.

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

It will dock at Laem Chabang on Friday night and health officials will board it on Saturday morning to examine passengers before allowing them to disembark, a Thai Marine Department spokeswoman said.

VIETNAM ‘UNREASONABLE’

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 and it remains at anchor in Yokohama port.

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 (NCLH.N), was also denied permission to dock in Vietnam.

“Due to growing concerns regarding coronavirus in Asia, the ports we planned to visit in Vietnam are no longer open to accepting cruise ships,” the Norwegian Cruise Line said.

The ship had no cases of the virus, its captain Frank Juliussen said in a letter to passengers.

“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,” the letter read.

“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 port he was referring to.

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

Vietnamese port authorities declined to comment and referred calls from Reuters to local officials. Those telephone calls went unanswered.

By Friday evening, the Norwegian Jade was heading for the port of Laem Chabang in Thailand, according to data on the Marine Traffic ship tracking website. Thailand’s Marine Department did not name the Norwegian Jade as a ship that was docking.

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 in Hanoi, Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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