HONOLULU — Passengers from a cruise ship that was turned away by other ports began disembarking at a Honolulu harbor Monday to catch chartered flights home. The development came after Hawaii officials changed their minds several times about whether the 2,000 passengers on the Norwegian Jewel could set foot in the state.
New measures to seal off borders to reduce the spread of coronavirus have left some cruise ships stranded, with local governments denying permission to disembark as more cases of infected passengers have come to light.
There were no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Jewel, according to state and cruise line officials.
The Centers for Disease Control said in a report Monday that at least 120 Americans who were aboard two sailings of the Grand Princess cruise ship, based in San Francisco, have tested positive for the virus, even though fewer than 500 were tested after being sent to 14 days of quarantine at several U.S. military bases. At least 13 Canadians also have tested positive from the Grand Princess.
The Norwegian Cruise Line ship first set sail on Feb. 28 in Sydney, Australia. It was later turned away by Fiji and New Zealand. It was allowed to refuel in American Samoa but passengers weren’t allowed to disembark. The ship then headed toward to Honolulu, where Hawaii officials initially said passengers would be allowed to disembark and catch flights home.
After complaints from Hawaii residents, including threats to block the ship from arriving, state officials changed course and said the ship could only stop to refuel and stock up on supplies.
On Sunday, as the ship headed to Honolulu, Hawaii officials announced that passengers would be allowed to disembark because the ship needed repairs.
The cruise line chartered at least 10 flights to locations including, Sydney, London and Los Angeles, said Tim Sakahara, spokesman for Hawaii’s Department of Transportation.
On the ship, passengers would go through U.S. customs and be screened by cruise line doctors. Then, they would enter a terminal at the harbor, where they would undergo thermal screening. Anyone with symptoms, such as a fever, would be evaluated by doctors. Passengers with no symptoms would board buses to the airport for their flights, Sakahara said.
“So far there haven’t been any symptomatic passengers at this point,” Sakahara said Monday morning after about four large buses transported passengers to the airport. “At no point will the cruise passengers be with the general public at large.”
The process will continue Tuesday, until all passengers have departed. About 1,000 crew members will remain on the ship, Sakahara said.
There were 25 Hawaii residents on the ship, who will be directed to self-quarantine for 14 days, even though the governor’s quarantine order for travelers arriving to the state doesn’t take effect until Thursday, Sakahara said.
The 13 passengers who live on the island of Oahu will be shuttled to their homes, while those who live on other Hawaiian islands will take chartered flights, Sakahara said.
Passenger Edmund Pinto, who is a former Associated Press editor, called Hawaii’s restrictions “over the top” for people who haven’t walked on land since March 11. “The state rules make little sense,” he said via text message while going through customs screening on the ship. “Flights into Honolulu are bringing more risk to your population than this ship.”
On Monday, passengers lounged in reclining chairs and walked about the deck of the ship. The harbor area where the ship was docked was gated-off and officers were standing guard at the entrance.
AP journalists Juliet Williams in San Francisco and Caleb Jones in Honolulu contributed to this report.