Portugal starts repatriation of passengers stuck on cruise ship

Portugal starts repatriation of passengers stuck on cruise ship

Passengers disembark from MSC Fantasia cruise ship in Lisbon
Passengers disembark from MSC Fantasia cruise ship en route from Brazil, after coronavirus testing process by the health authority, in Lisbon Portugal March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

LISBON: More than 1,000 passengers aboard a cruise ship docked in Portugal's capital Lisbon will be flown back to their home countries on Tuesday (Mar 24) even though a fellow passenger tested positive for coronavirus, the interior ministry said.

En route from Brazil, the MSC Fantasia arrived in Lisbon on Sunday and passengers, mostly from the European Union, Britain, Brazil and Australia, have since been waiting for repatriation efforts to begin.

Authorities in Portugal initially said all passengers would stay on board until they had been tested for the virus but only Portuguese passengers ended up getting the test, health authorities said.

The 39 Portuguese citizens and residency permit holders on board were given the green light to disembark on Monday. One tested positive for the coronavirus and they are all in isolation at home, the interior ministry said.

To tackle the spread of the coronavirus, cruise ships are no longer allowed to disembark foreign passengers. Portugal, which declared a state of emergency on Wednesday with restrictions on movement to people, is coordinating the repatriation of the passengers with embassies from various countries.

Repatriation flights will take off throughout the day from Lisbon to Germany, Brazil and the United Kingdom. The flights have capacity for 1,140 of the 1,299 people still on board the ship.

"As planned, these citizens will leave the ship and be escorted to Humberto Delgado airport in Lisbon for flights back to their countries of origin," the interior ministry said.

Images showed passengers being taken to the airport by bus. It is not clear when and if the remaining 159 will be repatriated.

The final destination of the ship, which left Rio de Janeiro on Mar 9 and can carry 4,363 passengers and 1,370 crew, had been Genoa in Italy, which is the European country worst affected by the virus.

Portugal has reported 2,060 cases of coronavirus and 23 deaths, far fewer than the numbers in Italy and Spain.

Source: Reuters