Why the Philippines is a magnet for idled cruise ships

May 21, 2020

IN HEALTHIER TIMES the sight of a fleet of cruise ships lying at anchor in Manila Bay, silhouetted against the sunset, would gladden the hearts of business people on shore, eager to relieve free-spending passengers of their money. But the 21 vessels dotting the seascape on May 21st were not so much floating hotels as prison hulks. The passengers are long gone. Instead, the ships serve as quarantine quarters for crews made idle by the collapse of the cruise market thanks to covid-19. For many of the hapless mariners, quarantine is proving endless.

The fleet anchored in Manila Bay began to gather after April 16th, when the Philippine government declared that, unlike many others in Asia, it would let foreign cruise ships call to land idled crews, as long as some of the staff were Filipino. As it happens, Filipinos make up about a third of all cruise-ship crews, so plenty of vessels met the criterion. Notorious arrivals include the Ruby Princess, which became a hotbed of covid-19 while cruising off Australia.

The government is allowing Filipino staff to land only after they spend 14 days in quarantine aboard ship and then test negative for covid-19. Even after a 14-day isolation, foreign crew-members can only come ashore if they have a reservation on a flight leaving Manila within four hours.

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