Hawaii Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday afternoon that two cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers and crew members will be allowed to dock at Honolulu Harbor, but no one on board will be allowed to leave the ships.
The announcement is an about-face on guidelines announced earlier by Gov. David Ige that came under fire from Oahu residents concerned about the coronavirus outbreak.
Transportation officials said in Wednesday’s statement that the Harbors Division is prepared to accept the two ships at Honolulu Harbor for refueling and restocking of food and supplies, but their passengers and crews will not be allowed to leave the ships.
“All cruise ships are on a 30-day pause in operations that took effect March 14,” the announcement said. At the time of that directive, however, the two ships were already at sea.
The decision to not allow the passengers and crew to disembark came after Ige’s Tuesday announcement of the state’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread” effort, where he directed visitors to consider postponing their travel to Hawaii for at least 30 days, transportation officials said.
Both ships have no confirmed cases of COVID-19, they said.
The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jewel, carrying 1,700 passengers, was not permitted to unload its passengers in American Samoa’s Port of Pago Pago. It is expected to arrive Sunday in Honolulu.
Holland America Line’s Maasdam, carrying 842 guests and 542 crew members, is scheduled to arrive in Honolulu on Friday at Pier 2. Its port call in Hilo was canceled, and state officials said Honolulu was the preferred harbor.
“The health and safety of all people in Hawaii is always at the forefront of operational decisions,” DOT Director Jade Butay said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon. “Presently, all state resources are focused and directed towards containing COVID-19.
“Allowing more than 2,500 passengers and crew to disembark will further strain these resources, the DOT said.
“Neither ship had originally planned to make Hawaii its final port and both will carry on to mainland destinations, where more resources can be marshaled to handle the passengers and crew properly,” Butay said.
Ige said Tuesday that all ship passengers will be screened by thermal scanning and interviewed by physicians before disembarking in Honolulu starting Friday.
However, Hawaii residents, with fears of more coronavirus spread by travelers, have expressed opposition to cruise ship passengers disembarking at Hawaii’s ports, including Honolulu Harbor.
The news the Maasdam might arrive in Hilo “elicited worried and angry responses on social media,” even calling for “civilian vessels to physically block the Maasdam’s entrance to the harbor,” the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Tuesday.
Similar responses arose regarding the two ships heading for Honolulu, with many calling on the governor to stop people from disembarking and questioning state officials’ decisions.
Many questions and rumors reared up after the Westerdam, a Holland America Line cruise ship, arrived Monday and its crew disembarked at Pier 2. It departed Tuesday.
DOT officials have not responded to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as to how many of the ship’s 680 crew members and 18 contract service staff disembarked in Honolulu.
An internal memo by the Hawaii Foreign-Trade Zone management, obtained by the Star-Advertiser, said that the vessel’s onboard doctor would be conducting the screening.
All 16 COVID-19 cases in Hawaii were deemed to have been transmitted due to travel, and not by community spread, the state now says. In one instance thought to have been Hawaii’s first case of community spread, a young woman who works as a tour guide at Kualoa Ranch is believed to have contracted the virus from a visitor.
Thus far, 16 cruise ships have canceled scheduled visits to Hawaii during the 30-day suspension in operations, the DOT said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.