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Trump: Cruise Ships Could Be Used for COVID-19 Response in U.S. Ports

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Cruise ship moored at a terminal in Manhattan (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 03-19-2020 02:07:46

At a news conference Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump said that he had spoken to Carnival Corporation chairman Mickey Arison about the possibility of deploying cruise ships if needed for the coronavirus response.

"In addition to the big medical ships that you have coming, if we need ships with lots of rooms, they'll be docked at New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco, different places, so I want to thank Mickey Arison [and] Carnival Cruise Lines," Trump said. 

Almost all of Carnival's vessels are currently moored, anchored or in the process winding down operations due to a voluntary suspension of activity. In a statement issued Thursday, the company said that its offer is focused on providing space for patients who do not have the novel coronavirus so that hospitals can focus on the expected demands of COVID-19 treatment. 

"With the continued spread of COVID-19 expected to exert added pressure on land-based healthcare facilities, including a possible shortage of hospital beds, Carnival Corporation and its brands are calling on governments and health authorities to consider using cruise ships as temporary healthcare facilities to treat non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up additional space and expanding capacity in land-based hospitals to treat cases of COVID-19. As part of the offer, interested parties will be asked to cover only the essential costs of the ship's operations while in port," the company wrote. 

Cruise ships have been deployed for disaster relief and emergency housing before. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, the cruise ship Grand Celebration provided housing for response staff in St. Thomas, USVI, then transitioned to offer temporary shelter for displaced survivors at a flat nightly rate. In the wake of Hurricane Irma that year, four Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines vessels deployed to the USVI for similar purposes.

In October 2018, the Grand Celebration canceled two months' of sailings in order to deploy to Massachussetts for an emergency relief effort. She was chartered by utility firm Columbia Gas to provide housing for hundreds of repair workers after a series of gas line accidents. 

The concept has been examined for non-emergency purposes as well. In 2017, the city of Dublin contemplated chartering a cruise ship to provide housing for the homeless, though it eventually decided against the concept. In 2015, Sweden's Migration Board looked at chartering cruise ships and floating offshore accommodations facilities (floatels) to provide migrant housing in ports like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, Oskarshamn, Uddevalla and Gävle.