Seventy crew members on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan have been infected with the COVID-19 virus, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said in a report.
The information is being released after the Japanese Ministry of Health said in an update that 55 crew and two passengers tested positive to the virus, pushing the total count of Coronavirus infections on the cruise ship to 691.
The ITF said that all remaining crew, predominately Filipino and Indonesian, are to begin the process to be repatriated home in the coming days, as they received clearance from the owner of the vessel, Princess Cruises.
The union said that the decision follows pressure from the ITF and FIT-CISL, the ITF-affiliated Italian seafarers union, on Princess Cruises and the Japanese government. The Italian union holds the collective agreement onboard the Diamond Princess.
ITF General Secretary Steve Cotton wrote to the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs last week on behalf of affiliated unions calling for the crew to be repatriated as more and more passengers were allowed to leave the ship.
The ITF and its affiliate the Seafarers’ Union of Russia (SUR) also sent requests to the International Labour Organization to remind its member states and the company of their obligations under the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006 for seafarers’ health and safety.
Princess Cruises gave approval on Friday, February 21 for all 1,004 crew from more than 40 nations, to leave the vessel.
Details surrounding repatriation procedures, as well as quarantine requirements for the crew who choose to remain on the ship are yet to be confirmed. The union added that the minimum manning of the ship will be guaranteed with a voluntary crew.
“A voluntary team of new seafarers are ready to go on board,” said Francesco di Fiore, ITF inspectorate co-ordinator Italy. “A new master is already in Yokohama waiting in the hotel for instructions.”
The move comes after concerns from experts that the virus was spreading on board the vessel.
“It was a mistake to insist on keeping all the crew on board when it was only necessary to have a safe manning group onboard,” said di Fiore. “But the crew remained calm and were proud to stay, do their job and be part of the story.”
The announcement comes as the Japanese Ministry of Health confirms the third death caused by the outbreak of Coronavirus on board the cruise ship. Namely, a man of Japanese nationality in his 80s passed away on February 23 after being infected with the virus.
The third death is being reported days after the virus claimed the lives of two Diamond Princess passengers, also in their 80s.
“Our hearts go out to the families, friends and all who are impacted by these losses. All of us at Princess Cruises, as well as the crew of the Diamond Princess, offer our sincere condolences,” the company said in a statement.
As reporter earlier, some 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board the cruise ship were told to stay in their cabins since February 5 in order to prevent the spread of the fatal virus. After a 14-day quarantine, the passengers were allowed to disembark and return to their countries of origin. The US, UK, Australia, and Canada provided chartered aircraft to take their citizens home.
However, despite the quarantine measures, passengers who tested negative to CONVID-19 prior to disembarking are starting to experience symptoms of the virus and getting hospitalized.
As such the number of infected people is increasing on a daily basis.
According to a statement from Chief Medical Officer at the UK’s Arrowe Park Hospital, Professor Chris Whitty, there are now four positive coronavirus cases related to the cruise ship.
“Four further patients in England have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to thirteen,” he said.
“The virus was passed on in the Diamond Princess cruise ship and the patients are being transferred from Arrowe Park to specialist NHS infection centres.”
According to the latest update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 329 U.S. citizens, who were quarantined on the cruise ship, returned to the country last week.
“So far, 18 have tested positive at CDC. Another 10 were reportedly positive in Japan,” Nancy Messonnier, the Director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), said.
“Because the passengers on the Diamond Princess were in a close setting, where there has been a significant spread of COVID-19, they are considered at high risk for infection. We do expect to see additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the passengers. Additionally, since many of these people are over the age of 60, we are also prepared for other medical issues to arise that will require hospitalization.”
As of February 21, the U.S. reported 34 cases in total, 13 in the U.S. and 21 cases among the people who were repatriated, including 18 passengers from the Diamond Princess and three from the Wuhan repatriation flights.
Overall, it is believed that about 1,000 people have disembarked the ship so far.