Hawaii Updates: First Of 2 Cruise Ships Headed To Honolulu After Diverted From Hilo

4 hours ago

See yesterday’s updates: Hawaii schools closed until April 7, Kauai imposes a curfew, Maui and Honolulu Close Dine-In.

Big Island residents are breathing a sigh of relief after Hawaii authorities canceled a cruise ship’s emergency plans to unload hundreds of its passengers at Hilo Harbor.

State transportation officials say the Holland America Line vessel is now set to arrive in Honolulu Friday, but none of its more than 800 passengers will be allowed off the ship.

According to the cruise ship company, the Maasdam has no known or suspected cases of COVID-19. 

The cruise ship's plans to dock in Hilo set off a wave of panic among local residents. Some feared the influx of visitors might increase the chances of the coronavirus spreading on the island.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said the decision to reroute the cruise ship to Honolulu was made out of an abundance of caution.

"You have your responsibilities of protecting this island and one of the ways of protecting it is to minimize people coming here. Those 800 passengers were looking forward to this trip and we had to cut them out from it. Thereʻs no pleasure in that," Kim said.

The Holland America Line cruise ship left Auckland, New Zealand, on March 1 with a final destination of San Diego, California. But as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded around the world, Pacific Island nations along the cruise ship’s route began closing its ports.

Passenger Terri Shanks says she sympathizes with the concerns expressed by Hilo residents. The 49-year-old British citizen and her 8-year-old son, Cameron, have been at sea for 23 days.

"I completely understand the concerns of the people of Hawaiʻi. I had a lady message me just today saying, you know, how worried people were, you know, the shops are bare of supplies, the hospitals, you know, are much smaller hospitals that can’t cope," she said. "So I completely understand. We’d be trying to do the same, absolutely."

Shanks says cruise ship authorities told passengers last week that they would be able to get off the ship in Hilo, and so many began booking air travel out of Hilo and Kona airports. As for Shanks and her son, they have a long and uncertain journey home to the United Kingdom.

"I’m concerned, obviously, about taking a child off the ship that is virus-free and having to go through possibly three international airports with crowds and chaos like that. But I think now we’re so unsettled that we just want to go home and be back with our family," she said.

According to Associated Press, a second ship is headed to Honolulu. The Norwegian Cruise Line said one of its vessels that had been turned away by Fiji and New Zealand is expected to disembark in Honolulu on Sunday.

The Norwegian Jewel with about 2,000 passengers refueled in American Samoa but was not allowed to disembark at the Port of Pago Pago.