Letter to the Editor: Cruise ships pose a threat to the community

To the Editor: 

I am a lifelong summer resident of Hancock County who has been a frequent visitor to Mount Desert Island. If I understand correctly a total of 198 cruise ship visits were planned for Bar Harbor between April and November 2020. I find it both curious and disturbing that the Bar Harbor Town Council has not seen fit to further restrict cruise ship visits to Bar Harbor during the 2020 sailing season, particularly since Acadia National Park has closed its visitor facilities and park roadways. According to the Bar Harbor Town Council’s Coronavirus update of March 20, “No cruise ships will visit Bar Harbor until at least May 1st.” However, most cruise ship lines have already extended their own bans on new cruises until mid-May while at this writing more than a dozen cruise ships remain stranded at sea. 

There is now clear guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that visitors and crew aboard cruise ships are at particularly high risk for COVID-19 infection and transmission due to the confined spaces aboard ship, the difficulty of completely disinfecting common areas, restrictions on test kit availability and processing, and the limited medical facilities and staff onboard. Cruise ships also pose a distinct threat to the ports that they visit where community transmission can be accelerated by asymptomatic cruise passengers and crew who may infect those shoreside with whom they have contact. They also pose a particular threat to limited local health care facilities, first responders, and front-line health care workers. 

The government (both CDC and the State Department) has stated that all Americans should avoid cruise ship travel which they see as non-essential and deferrable due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even going aboard a cruise ship violates the CDC guidelines and Gov. Mills’ Executive Order to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. A growing number of other countries, including Canada, are suspending all cruise ship visits until at least July 1 or even longer or until further notice. This includes Australia, Mexico, Singapore and many others. Most industry analysts that closely follow the cruise ship industry now believe that cruise ship operations will likely be suspended for six months or longer. 

The toll to cruise ships hit by coronavirus is steadily mounting despite the measures taken by cruise lines to control the spread of Coronavirus: 

Feb. 4 – MS Diamond Princess, 712 cases, 12 dead. 

March 7 – MS River Anuket, 45 cases. 

March 9 – MS Grand Princess, 103 cases, 2 dead. 

March 18 – MS Ovation of the Seas, 79 cases. 

March 19 – MS Ruby Princess, 575 cases, 5 dead. 

March 19 – MS Costa Luminosa, 3 cases. 

April 2 – MS Zaandam, 14 confirmed cases requiring hospitalization, 250 more suspected cases, 4 dead. 

April 3 – MS Coral Princess, 12 cases. 

Not docked – MS Artania, 41 cases. 

With the news filled daily with heart-wrenching stories about the difficulties faced by those who are trapped aboard cruise ships during the spread of Coronavirus, most recently the Zaandam, a ship that regularly visits Bar Harbor, the time for more urgent action to extend the cruise ship ban should already be at hand. This should be a high priority for the Bar Harbor Town Council in order to protect the health and safety, not only of Bar Harbor’s residents but all of those on Mount Desert Island, the numerous other communities within Hancock County, and the entire State of Maine. 

Dana R. Younger 

Takoma Park, Md. 

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