February 12, 2020
(Updated 12:30 p.m. AEST) -- Tonga has joined the list of Pacific islands closing due to fears of novel coronavirus. Three cruise ships were denied entry to Nuku'alofa today -- Crystal Cruises' Crystal Serenity, CMV's Columbus and Transocean Kreuzfahrten's Astor -- upon orders from the public health minister.
Crystal Serenity will now arrive at Lautoka, Fiji, one day earlier on February 13. Columbus will proceed directly to Suva, Fiji and extend its stay overnight in port, while Astor will sail to Auckland for an extended stay. The ship are expected to continuing on their respective itineraries as planned.
The move by Tonga follows the unprecedented decision by tribal chiefs to close the New Caledonian ports of Lifou, Mare and Isle of Pines two weeks ago.
The port closures are affecting multiple South Pacific cruises from Australia as well as world voyages on lines including Silversea, Windstar, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess and P&O. Replacement ports include Vanuatu's Santo, Mystery Island and Port Vila. Some cruise lines are offering compensation, such as Carnival Cruise Line's $50 per person onboard credit.
Cruise lines are in communication with the local chiefs to attempt to find a solution to the disruptions. A spokesperson for Carnival Australia said: "We are continuing our dialogue with the island community leaders."
The South Pacific is not the only region shutting its shores; several Asian ports have closed to all cruise ship traffic or are denying access to people who have recently been in China. Meanwhile, the ports that remain open are seeing increased cruise ship visits as they allow the diverted ships to dock.
In a letter sent to all guests last week, Carnival Splendor's Captain Iemmi stated the decision about Isle of Pines was made without any consultation.
“Officials from Isle of Pines made the decision to not allow this ship (or any others that might be calling in the near future) to dock and disembark. We respect their decision -- just like we respect any decision by public authorities -- but our ship, our crew and our guests pose no specific or identified public health issue.
"We know that not being able to visit Isle of Pines is disappointing. But it should not be a reason for concern and you should continue to enjoy your cruise knowing that your health and safety remain our top priority.”
In a statement, the line said: "Although the risk to our guests and crew is low, we are closely monitoring the evolving situation with respect to Coronavirus. Our medical experts are coordinating closely with the Australian Government Department of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) and we have implemented enhanced screening, prevention and control measures for our ships, guests and crew.
"We also continue to work closely with the relevant health and port authorities at our destinations to manage the impact to our cruises of any steps that they may take with regards to public health."