Virus fears keep hundreds of cruise passengers at sea

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Operators of a British cruise ship that was turned away from its destination due to fears of the new coronavirus said Saturday they have chartered planes to ferry passengers home — but don’t yet have permission to dock anywhere.

The Braemar, which had been scheduled to disembark its hundreds of passengers in the Dominican Republic on Friday, was still cruising through the Caribbean more than a day later, with no immediate word on where it might wind up.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines issued statements insisting that nobody aboard had symptoms consistent with the COVID-19 illness. Dominican officials had refused to allow the vessel into port due to what the company said were “a very small number of influenza-like cases on board.”

That left both those aboard the ship and people who had arrived in the Dominican Republic to start a new 14-day cruise aboard the vessel in limbo.

“Now that we have secured aircraft, we are continuing discussions with nearby Caribbean islands to confirm our next port of call, and acquiring the necessary permissions to land at the appropriate airports,” the company said in a statement.

“These discussions are ongoing, and whilst we are unable to confirm final arrangements on when these flights will depart, and from which island, we are having positive discussions with the relevant authorities,” it added.

It was one of at least three cruise ships turned away from Caribbean ports over the past week due to concerns over possible viral infections, though no passengers on any of the ships has been confirmed to have the disease.