Hundreds of British passengers who were stranded on a Caribbean cruise over coronavirus fears are set to fly home from Cuba, it was confirmed today.
Captain Jozo Glavic told guests that the cruise ship Braemar was setting sail for Cuba where officials have agreed to accept the ship out of ‘humanitarian concerns’.
The Foreign Office in London said it was ‘working around the clock to arrange evacuation flights from Cuba to the UK’.
The ship has been anchored near the Bahamas for several days after five people tested positive on the Dutch island of Curacao.
Passengers on the cruise ships Braemar – pictured when it stopped in Jamaica earlier this month – could be allowed to disembark in Cuba, a diplomatic source has said
Officials in the Bahamas have refused to let the ship dock but are offering supplies of food and medication.
But last night a diplomatic source in Cuba told CNN that the government there was willing to accept the ship out of ‘humanitarian concerns’.
The Cuban source said the country was willing to take in the ship in a ‘shared effort to confront and stop the spread of the pandemic’.
The government in Havana ‘comprehends the difficult situation these passengers find themselves in’, they said said.
The ship has already been turned away by Barbados and the Bahamas after four passengers and one crew member tested positive. They are now in isolation on board the ship.
Another 16 passengers and 19 crew members are also in isolation after showing influenza-like symptoms, including a doctor.
Bars and restaurants on the ship remain open, but its ‘evening entertainment venue’ has been closed over health fears.
Guests can still watch performances on a screen from their cabins.
‘On the advice of health officials, we are encouraging guests to practice social distancing and other measures advised by Public Health England,’ staff say.
A Foreign Office statement said: ‘We are working around the clock to arrange evacuation flights from Cuba to the UK as soon as possible for passengers on the Braemar cruise ship.
‘The evacuation is being co-ordinated with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines and we advise that all passengers follow their instructions.
‘We continue to update British passengers as the plans progress.’
Passengers appeared in high spirits when the cruise ship Braemar docked in Jamaica on March 4 – but the ship has now become the latest to be stranded over coronavirus fears
Operated by British cruise firm Fred Olsen, the ship is carrying 682 mostly British passengers and 381 crew.
It is currently anchored around 25 miles off the coast of Freeport, where supplies of food and medication have been sent.
Relatives had previously voiced fears that the ship would have to sail all the way back to Britain with virus patients on board.
‘You have got the absolute target audience of the most vulnerable and at-risk on that ship,’ said Helen Littlewood, 39, from Norfolk, whose 74-year-old mother is on board.
‘My mum has high blood pressure, respiratory problems and she suffers from bronchitis and is asthmatic. She is one of hundreds.
‘I am absolutely terrified that they might have to sail across the Atlantic. No one has told us medically how they would cope if more people get sick.
‘What happens if the doctor gets sick? What happens if the captain gets sick?’
The cruise line said earlier it was in ‘high-level discussions’ with the Foreign Office about how to get the passengers back to the UK.
Captain Jozo Glavic told guests yesterday that ‘our situation continues to be looked at as a matter of the utmost urgency between the UK government and our head office’.
A statement today said: ‘We can confirm that Braemar, currently at anchor in The Bahamas, has taken on supply of food, medication and ship supplies, after a delivery via cargo ship from Freeport overnight.
‘At the same time, two doctors and two nurses joined the ship to assist Braemar’s on board medical team.
‘The captain, senior officers and crew worked extremely hard overnight to take receipt of these supplies and store them accordingly.
‘As a result, the Captain enforced a mandatory rest period for all those involved in the operation, following what was a busy and challenging day on board.
‘At around 9am on Saturday morning, Braemar dropped anchor approximately 25 miles south-west of Freeport in The Bahamas, and the ship remains at this location.’
A map showing the latest numbers of coronavirus cases around the world. The Diamond Princess cruise ship is marked in its own right off the coast of Japan
Bahamian authorities announced last Thursday that the ship would not be allowed to dock in the country.
‘This decision is based on consideration for the protection of health and safety of the Bahamian people and residents of the Bahamas’, the country’s finance ministry said.
‘The Bahamas Maritime Authority has been in constant communication with the owners of the Braemar, which is a Bahamas-flagged ship.’
Authorities in the Bahamas are ‘continuing to monitor the well-being of passengers and crew’, they say.
The five confirmed coronavirus patients tested positive last Tuesday at the port of Willemstad, on the Dutch island of Curacao.
Health authorities around the world have grown wary of cruise ships after a series of virus scares at sea.
In the most serious case, more than 700 people tested positive on board the Diamond Princess during a two-week quarantine imposed by Japanese authorities.
British nationals aged over 70 or suffering from underlying health conditions have been advised against travelling on cruise ships by the Foreign Office.
‘As has been seen in a number of high-profile cases, transmission of Covid-19 on board cruise ships is more likely due to the nature and design of a ship’s environment, the higher volume and density of people on board, and the social mixing,’ officials say.
Some operators including Princess Cruises have already shut down their ocean voyages temporarily over virus fears.