MONTEGO BAY, St James — Port Authority and tourism officials were, up to press time Thursday night, unable to provide information on Jamaica's decision to turn away a cruise ship that was scheduled to call on Ocho Rios.
More than 1,300 passengers were left disappointed as the Emerald Princess was denied entrance to the Ocho Rios Cruise Terminal Thursday due to confirmed novel coronavirus infections onboard.
The ship had departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on December 29 on a 10-day cruise. After making stops in the Turks & Caicos, Colombia, and Costa Rica, the Emerald Princess was expected to make its final stop along Jamaica's north coast before heading back to the United States.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer, a passenger , who is Jamaican, shared that the passengers were informed of the ship's re-route on Wednesday night.
“We were on our way to Ocho Rios, coming in from Costa Rica, when the captain informed us that Jamaica has denied the ship entry into the port,” said the man, who requested anonymity.
He said that the captain went on to share that the increase in COVID-19 cases across the island was a factor in the entry denial.
“He said this was due to the large number of COVID-19 cases on the island and they were going to see if we were able to dock at another port and that they would give us more information at a later time,” said the passenger.
When the Observer called the Ministry of Tourism for comment, the newspaper was directed to the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ). However, after several calls to PAJ, the Observer learned that officials there were huddled in meetings to deal with “this very sensitive matter”.
The passenger also told the Observer that, along with the COVID-19 cases on the island, there are a few cases on the ship.
“They are minor and are being handled in a good manner, so there was no need to worry. Everybody else is free to enjoy the ship's activities, just wear your mask as normal and enjoy the activities that suit you,” he said.
“Other than just being disappointed about not coming to Jamaica, everybody is fine and are just enjoying the activities onboard,” he said. “I think we're all just disappointed about not coming to Jamaica on the last stop, which is the only one that we were unable to make. We were able to make it to all the other ports but Jamaica would have been the highlight for me. There is no large scare on the ship, we were just disappointed to hear that Jamaica denied us entry.”
Anthony Hewie, general manager of Margaritaville Ocho Rios, a popular destination for cruise passengers, also expressed disappointment with the development.
However, Hewie said the reason for the refusal to dock was understandable.
“We love when the ships come in port because that is a very significant part of our well-being as that is where the majority of our revenue comes from. But we also understand that from time to time we will have situations that will prevent the cruise ships from coming into port and one of those situations tends to be COVID-19 outbreaks onboard,” he said.
“So the authorities will deny the ship entry, and for us it impacts us negatively, but as a business we believe that the safety of everyone is very important. So as long as it makes sense and we are not just doing something because we have the authority to do it, then we support it,” Hewie said.
Late Thursday evening news emerged that the ship was also denied entry to The Bahamas.
This, the Jamaican said, meant one more day at sea for the passengers.