Cruise ships and coronavirus: Cruise passengers don't deserve to be vilified by us

The term "abandon ship" has acquired renewed and unexpected meaning. Equal only to recalcitrant Bondi beachgoers, cruising has become public enemy number one in the fight to contain the coronavirus, among the same governments that only weeks ago unconditionally welcomed passengers to their shores.

But now, what of the duty of care, let alone moral obligation, for innocent, hapless passengers - a good many of them Australian citizens - who have been embroiled in the endless cycle of cruise ships ruthlessly denied permission to berth by numerous countries (including a usually more merciful New Zealand)?

Yes, the Ruby Princess situation should have been handled differently, but passengers don't deserve to be punished for the mistakes of governments.

Putting aside the humanitarian imperative, these nations have all been major beneficiaries of the extraordinary cruising boom in recent years. As a recent cruise ship passenger, I count myself fortunate having made it safely back to Australia, coronavirus-free, after disembarking a cruise ship in Ushuaia, Argentina, after a 12-days Antarctica cruise.

The very next cruise on the same ship, with mostly Australians aboard, was turned away from the same port, with the vessel forced to sail north on to Buenos Aires where it and its passengers were stranded off-shore. No doubt Argentina will happily welcome back cruise passengers and their spending power at some point.

True, cruise ships have always been venues for illness, with another less sinister pathogen, norovirus, a regular and unwelcome visitor to their decks. The average age of cruise passengers and their various complex medical histories also complicate matters.

There's no doubt that the cruise industry, if it is to survive, will need to revisit its management of onboard biosecurity and hygiene measures, which it insists are already pervasive and responsible. Social distancing may well have to become a regular feature of the future cruise passenger experience, long after the coronavirus is defeated.

But passengers right now, many of whom have drawn deeply on their life savings to take their dream cruise, and for that matter their crews – mostly citizens of poor nations – are victims of an aberrant pandemic, just like the rest of us.

These passengers, particularly the ill ones and no matter their nationality, deserve better treatment, respect and consideration by governments, including our own, and not abandonment, sent on their way to become someone else's pandemic problem.

Anthony Dennis is editor of Traveller in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

See also: Cruise line offers its empty ships for use as floating hospitals

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