Coast Guard tells cruise ships with COVID-19 cases to avoid US ports

Coronavirus Cruise Ship Coast Guard Wide 6b123717ccb647366d5462183d1314116f7f6dc0 S800 C85

(MIAMI) — The U.S. Coast Guard is telling foreign-flagged cruise ships to be prepared to care for people with COVID-19 for an "indefinite period of time" at sea or to seek help from countries other than the U.S., citing a health care system that is being overwhelmed, NPR reported.

The instructions are in a new safety bulletin that took effect this week along the southern Atlantic coast, including Florida – which reported more than 6,700 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday evening.

If a cruise ship must send someone ashore for medical care, its owner will be responsible for essentially every step of the trip, from arranging an evacuation to hiring a private ambulance and ensuring the person has a spot in a hospital. But the Coast Guard bulletin, signed by Rear Adm. E.C. Jones of the 7th District based in Miami, also said it could be difficult to find any facility in South Florida that can take new COVID-19 patients.

The new medical requirements apply to any vessel carrying more than 50 people. It also singles out cruise ships that are registered in the Bahamas – referring to many of the ships owned by large cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian.

Foreign-flagged ships are the norm in the cruise industry. By registering ships in the Bahamas, Panama and other countries, cruise companies can avoid U.S. taxes as well as employment and environmental laws. But now, the Coast Guard is telling those companies that their ships should seek medical care in the countries where they are registered, rather than rely on the U.S.

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By Professional Mariner Staff