March 17, 2020 / 3:03 PM / 19 days ago

South Africa quarantines cruise liner after suspected coronavirus case

CAPE TOWN, March 17 (Reuters) - South Africa is holding the cruise liner, MV AidAmira, and a cargo vessel off Cape Town’s port limits after a crew member onboard one of the vessels showed signs of coronavirus, national ports operator Transnet said on Tuesday.

On Sunday President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and implemented urgent measures to fight the pandemic, which has so far affected 62 in South Africa as it spreads rapidly across the continent.

Countries around the world have barred cruise liners from entering their ports, fearful the large ships could fuel the spread of coronavirus similar to the Diamond Princess which was quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb. 3.

“This is the first suspected case of COVID-19 in a South African sea-port,” state-owned freight and logistics group Transnet said in a statement, referring to the new coronavirus.

Transnet said it was later established the suspect patient, a crew member onboard the MV Corona cargo vessel, had been on a flight with a fellow crew member and six passengers who boarded the MV AidAmira at port.

The cargo vessel left Cape Town on March 11 but the ship’s master contacted port authorities requesting to return on Monday after the patient started to exhibit symptoms of the virus.

The other six passengers on board the Italian-flagged MV AidAmira were quarantined as a precautionary measure for further medical checks, although they did not exhibit any symptoms, Transnet said.

The cruise liner, with 1,240 passengers and 486 crew on board, was on it way back from Namibia’s Walvis Bay. Besides the six, all other passengers and crew remained quarantined on board.

AidAmira is one of many cruise liners plying their trade in southern Africa’s burgeoning cruise industry, with Cape Town an important stop-over on any voyage.

Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, the biggest cruise liner in the world, is expected to return to Cape Town later in March on a “service call” only, after most of its passengers disembarked in Fremantle and its world tour was called off due to the pandemic, a Cunard official told Reuters.

However, passengers from the World Odyssey and Le Lyrial cruise ships were allowed to disembark after being cleared by health officials, said the V&A Waterfront which operates the cruise terminal in Cape Town.

A Waterfront spokesman said on Tuesday none of these vessels are being re-boarded and all should leave the port by midnight once cleared by authorities. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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