Police to monitor cruise ship Magnifica as it refuels in WA to ensure no one disembarks | World news
Police and border force officers will meet a cruise ship at the port in Fremantle at 5am on Tuesday to ensure no one leaves the vessel while it is refuelling.
The Western Australian government confirmed late Monday that the cruise ship Magnifica, which is due to arrive at Fremantle at 5am, would be in port to refuel only and that no passengers or crew would disembark.
But it said the Magnifica’s operator MSC Cruises had provided “inconsistent” information, leading to an earlier statement from the premier, Mark McGowan, that 250 of the ship’s 1,700 passengers had reported suffering upper respiratory illness, and that the ship was hoping passengers would be able to disembark.
“Over the past 24 hours the vessel had provided inconsistent advice to both the state and federal governments, about the health of its passengers and its intentions around disembarkation,” a statement from the WA government said.
“The state government’s position was clear this morning. That position was based on the latest information received from the cruise company.
“MSC Cruises now advises that all passengers and crew are ‘well’ or don’t suffer from any ‘respiratory diseases’.
“WA police and Border Force will be at the port tomorrow morning to monitor the refuel exercise.
“In this environment we cannot take risks and we will always put the Western Australian community first.”
The Magnifica was off the coast of Walpole, in south-west Western Australia, on Monday.
MSC Cruises claimed there was no illness on board and that its stop in Fremantle would be a “technical call only”.
On Thursday, about 240 passengers from the Magnifica were allowed to disembark in Melbourne, subject to dockside checks by members of the Victorian health department. They were then bussed to hotels to undertake mandatory self-isolation.
The Magnifica, which departed Wellington, New Zealand, on 9 March, also stopped in Hobart on 13 March but passengers and crew were barred from disembarking. It had a scheduled stop in Sydney on 15 March. Guardian Australia has asked New South Wales authorities how many, if any, passengers disembarked.
McGowan said earlier on Monday that he had received a request from MSC Cruises to allow the ship to dock and refuel.
But he said he did not intend to repeat the mistakes the NSW government made with the cruise ship Ruby Princess and allow potentially infected passengers to disembark.
As of Monday, 48 passengers from the Ruby Princess, which logged 158 cases of illness before it docked in Sydney and offloaded 2,700 passengers on Thursday 19 March, had tested positive to Covid-19, including 21 who tested positive interstate after leaving Sydney. Six of those are in Perth.
Six passengers from the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, which docked in Sydney on Wednesday 18 March, had also tested positive to Covid-19 – five in NSW and one in WA.
“I will not allow what happened in Sydney to happen here,” McGowan told reporters in Perth on Monday. “We will not allow passengers or crew to wander the streets. This is a non-negotiable position.”
MSC Cruises contradicted McGowan in a statement on Monday, saying it had no plans to allow either passengers or crew to disembark in Fremantle and that “all passengers and crew on board are well”.
“No passengers or crew on board suffer from any respiratory diseases or present any flu-like symptoms,” the statement, published by the ABC, said. “There is no evidence to suggest that anyone on board may be infected with Covid-19.”
McGowan said he was working with the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, to manage the situation, and would consider calling the defence force to assist. Home affairs has been contacted for comment.
It is understood the ship will be allowed to refuel in Western Australia, and McGowan said WA would “provide assistance to those with urgent needs”.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, told federal parliament that responsibility for allowing passengers to disembark the Ruby Princess lay with the NSW health department, and that the Australian defence force had now been asked to help with contact tracing of infected passengers.
The Magnifica is the second last cruise ship scheduled to arrive in WA, as cruise companies halt new voyages in response to tighter border controls put in place to manage the coronavirus. Many ships are now stranded with a skeleton crew in their most recent port or anchored offshore, awaiting permission to move.
MSC Cruises, which runs the Magnifica, has halted all new voyages until 30 April.
The 1,220-passenger Vasco da Gama is scheduled to arrive from Colombo on Friday. Guardian Australia understands many of its passengers are Australian, and may be allowed entry – subject to health advice – if they are immediately placed into mandatory 14-day self-isolation.
Two other cruise ships, the Pacific Princess and the MS Amsterdam, remain dockside in Fremantle. They arrived last week and passengers have been allowed to disembark on the condition they go straight to the airport and have a boarding pass to an international flight.
The WA government has said that 476 people, mainly US citizens, planned to disembark the Pacific Princess, and 1,097, again mainly US citizens, were disembarking the Amsterdam.
There are also two cruise ships sitting idle in Melbourne: the Viking Orion; and the Golden Princess, from which 2,200 passengers disembarked last Thursday and were placed in self-isolation, after 22 people tested negative to Covid-19.
Crews on freight ships are also required to undertake a mandatory 14-day self-isolation, but unlike cruise ships, time at sea is included in that calculation.