The official explanation is that a small percentage of the passengers had been struck with norovirus, the winter vomiting bug. But a long-simmering row over the islands has led to a group of South American countries, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay, banning ships flying the Falkland Islands flag from docking at their ports. As Star Princess was carrying a number of Argentinian nationals on its 14-day South America cruise from Valparaiso, Chile to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, questions have arisen as to whether this was a reciprocal action on the part of the Falklands government.
The ship had been allowed into ports in Chile and Argentina prior to arriving at Port Stanley. Argentina's foreign ministry issued a statement saying it hoped the decision was not "only the latest hostile act against tourists of various nationalities, including Argentine citizens who have the simple desire and hope of getting to see the Malvinas Islands."
A statement on the Falkland Islands government website claimed: “An outbreak in the Falkland Islands would put enormous pressure on our limited medical resources, and jeopardise other scheduled cruise visits.”
But Princess Cruises does not accept this and said in a media statement: “This unprecedented decision by local government officials was made, we believe erroneously, because of the number of cases of gastrointestinal illness onboard. During this cruise a total of 64 passengers (2.48% of 2,584) and 10 crew members (0.94% of 1,068) have reported ill to the medical center. Currently there are 20 people aboard the ship who are symptomatic. Despite the low number of cases which have not yet reached the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) 3% definition of an outbreak, we have not been able to convince the local Chief Medical Officer that the decision is unwarranted.”
This is the busiest time of year for cruise ships visiting the Falklands, with Port Stanley expecting 23 calls between now and the end of March. Ships on shorter cruises from and to South American ports, carrying an international mix of passengers, like Star Princess does, will often have Argentinian nationals on board, some of them visiting the graves of relatives who died in the Falklands conflict, 30 years ago.
Star Princess is due back in Port Stanley on January 28.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor