The Costa Luminosa passed through the Strait of Gibraltar on Tuesday and was headed toward its next scheduled stop in southern France, but it remains unclear what will happen when it arrives. France began a lockdown Tuesday ordered by President Emmanuel Macron.
There are 233 Americans aboard, the company said. Some passengers are growing increasingly anxious, according to relatives who have spoken to them. A number have developed coughs and one woman told her daughter that the crew appeared overwhelmed by the need to deliver food to all the cabins. Symptoms of the coronavirus include coughing, fever and shortness of breath.
Costa Cruises, which operates the ship, said in a statement that there was a delay in organizing room service for the first meal when passengers were sequestered in their cabins, but that food delivery is now running smoothly.
The company said three passengers who disembarked the ship since Feb. 29 have since tested positive for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Three more passengers were allowed to disembark in the Canary Islands on Sunday after complaining of breathing difficulties or a fever, but the Spanish government would not allow other passengers to disembark because the nation’s ports were closed, the company said.
Rossella Carrara, a vice president of the Costa line, said in an email to The Washington Post on Tuesday afternoon that “at the moment the health situation on board is under control, with no need for medical disembarkations.”
The ship, she said, is sailing off the Spanish Coast heading to Marseille, France, in hopes of docking and disembarking passengers there on Thursday. It is not clear how French authorities will handle the situation. The French Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Starting at noon on Tuesday, France was under total lockdown under the orders of Macron, who addressed the nation in a somber speech the night before. “We are at war,” he said, noting that the restrictions he was imposing were unprecedented during peacetime. “A sanitary war.”
The terms of the lockdown allow people to leave their homes to buy food, visit pharmacies or doctors and to exercise — but not in groups. To pass through police checkpoints, all people are required to present “attestation” forms certifying the essential nature of their trips outside their homes.
Cruise line officials said they were communicating with French authorities Tuesday, discussing disembarkation procedures.
The Costa Luminosa first set out from Fort Lauderdale on March 5 on an itinerary scheduled to take it through the Caribbean and then on to Europe, with a final destination of Italy.
During a previous voyage, an Italian man complained of heart trouble and was taken off the ship in the Cayman Islands on Feb. 29, Costa Cruises said in a statement. He later tested positive for the coronavirus and has since died. On the current voyage, an Italian woman who disembarked in Puerto Rico on March 8 after complaining of breathing trouble has also since tested positive for the virus, as has her husband, who was traveling with her, the company said.
Despite the woman’s respiratory distress, the Costa Luminosa ship continued across the Atlantic bound for Europe. Passengers were told early into the voyage that because of the outbreak, the ship would not head to Italy, but that stops in the Canary Islands and France were still planned, according to what passengers have told relatives.
Carrara, the cruise line official, said that isolation and room service rules were put in place Sunday, the day after the cruise company was informed of two positive cases involving passengers on the current cruise.
“Other measures had already been implemented in the days before, including isolation of the close contacts of the suspect cases and the cancellation of several on board activities,” she said.
The company said it learned that passengers from a previous cruise on the ship had tested positive on Fridayand had stepped up sanitation procedures.
However, several Americans whose parents are aboard said that passengers continued to eat communal meals and freely roam the ship until Sunday. Only then were they told that passengers should isolate in their rooms and that meals would be delivered to their doors, they said.
Yevgeniy Sverdlik, whose in-laws are on board, said they and other passengers have developed coughs. Sverdlik said that late Monday, his father-in-law, Alexander Smirnov, 67, had reported that he had a fever, as well. He said that a few hours later, Smirnov reported that his temperature had returned to normal.
“It’s definitely terrifying. It’s been challenging to get any information,” said Sverdlik, of Albany, Calif.
Costa Cruises said that staff members are going cabin to cabin taking the temperatures of passengers and crew members and reporting the results to doctors on board. Anyone with an elevated temperature is seen by a doctor as soon as possible, the company said.
Ashley Ecker, 41, of San Diego, said her parents have reported that the ship’s crew members appear shaken by the situation and overwhelmed by the need to deliver food to every cabin.
When her parents had received no breakfast by 11 a.m. Monday, her mother left her cabin to determine whether there was a problem, encountering an elderly man in the hall who said he was diabetic and had not had a meal in 18 hours, Ecker said.
“They’re in good spirits, which helps. I just get very worried that one morning, the message is going to be that they don’t feel well,” she said.
Shawn Dawley, 46, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is on board with his wife, said that by Tuesday, the crew had appeared to work out kinks in the food delivery process and had also increased efforts to keep passengers informed during a rapidly changing situation.
“The captain, the crew and the cruise line is operating in an extremely dynamic environment with layers of variable,” he said. “ The crew is doing an admirable job of maintaining a single sheet of music from which we can all sing.”
Dawley said crew members have been collecting information from passengers to try to help them develop plans to get home. Still, he said the uncertainty about docking and the chaos in the airline industry have made things more difficult.
Ecker said a State Department official told her Monday that the U.S. government will not be able to do much to help if France requires passengers to remain on board or will not allow them to leave France.
“She said the State Department has no intention of sending a plane for the Americans,” she said. “I realize this is a drop in a bucket in all the suffering. Still, you would think there would be a better government response to this.”
A State Department official said the agency is “closely monitoring” the Costa Luminosa. “We are aware that the ship has multiple U.S. citizen passengers. Our team is in communication with U.S. government partner agencies, such as the CDC, and relevant local authorities. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services to the U.S. citizens on board, in accordance with guidance from local health authorities and in coordination with the CDC,” the official said.
Sverdlik said that he was able to reach a U.S. official at the consulate in Marseille on Tuesday, who said that French officials were aware of the situation and debating whether to allow the ship to dock. The U.S. official indicated that if the ship docks, French authorities will probably test all passengers for the virus and hospitalize anyone who tests positive.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance recommending that all people defer any travel on cruise ships worldwide because of increased risk of transmission.
Costa Cruises has suspended new sailings until April 3 and said it is working to help guests on board ships get home.
“The protection of the health and safety of passengers and crew members is a top priority for Costa Cruises,” the company said in a statement.
James McAuley in Paris and Hannah Sampson in Washington contributed to this report.