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Cllr’s call to ban cruise ships from Cobh is a dramatic, but very understandable, one

March 23rd, 2020 11:40 AM

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The Port of Cork has plans for 107 cruise liners to visit Cork/Cobh in the coming months and passenger numbers could reach 206,000

THE Port of Cork, which very successfully promotes cruise-ship visits to Cobh and Bantry, is up to its oxters in yet other controversy.

Last year, the company was involved in an acrimonious dispute over public access to a historic right of way at Cobh’s Deep Water Quay. This year, the bone of contention concerns the unimpeded movement through the town of cruise ship passengers and crew, despite townspeople having very serious concerns over the Coronavirus emergency.

Port officials explained that having berthed overnight at the Ringaskiddy Ferry Terminal (en route from Dublin), the cruise ship, Saga Sapphire, subsequently continued to Cobh where some passengers boarded excursion-coaches for trips to Blarney. Others ambled happily around the harbour town, chatting to locals and having an Irish Coffee here and there.

Curiously, the Port Authority did not see any incongruity in the fact that passengers  intermingled with local people in shops, cafés and pubs despite concerns being focussed nationally on the deadly virus, Covid-19, and the possibility of it infecting large swathes of people.

All of which prompted serious questions in Cobh: such as the possibility of the fatal virus being transmitted to locals by cruise ship passengers and crew, and to what extent the Port authority was aware of the danger?

VIRUS IN COBH?

Certainly, the Port carried out relevant ‘checks’ before passengers and crew disembarked (happily nothing medically untoward was discovered), but no details were provided of what the ‘checks’ consisted of, or how the company defined a clean bill of health.

The lack of information did not satisfy townspeople, aghast at the possibility that the havoc-wreaking virus might be carried inadvertently into the town!

In a statement, the Port of Cork claimed that the cruise ship posed no ‘higher risks’ when compared to the use of public transport or flying into Cork!

The Port of Cork also asserted that it had responded in the most responsible way possible to Department of Health recommendations, and that it had followed ‘all necessary guidelines from the HSE’  – such as completing the Maritime Declaration of Health (MDoH) to SafeSeas Ireland (SSI).  One wonders what that was!

It also claimed to have been monitoring constantly ‘a quickly evolving situation at a national level and globally as cruise ship operators made their own decisions in relation to their operations’.

Even making allowance for the terrible syntax, the officialise-type statement did not inspire confidence and came across as gobbledegook.  Nor did it allay fears in a town where schools, churches, pubs and places of assembly were soon to be closed to the public.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

That said, the Port of Cork emphasised that it was ‘keenly aware of public concern over the Covid-19’.  Indeed, it commented that while all cruise lines and their passengers would be welcomed to Cork, the Port was following advice from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the leading voice of the global cruise industry, ‘on the adoption of additional enhanced screening measures’.

That’s certainly reassuring, heartening, even impressive – or would be if we knew what the term ‘screening measures’ meant!

So here’s a crunch question.

As passengers and crew from the Saga Sapphire disembarked in Cobh, according to what criteria was the Harbour Board confident that no one was ‘symptomatic’?  In other words, that no one was suffering from a serious respiratory infection?

Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, Department of Health, pointed out that there have been a number of situations where people who arrived at Dublin Airport were found to be ‘symptomatic’ and were dealt appropriately and immediately by health authorities.

Procedures are working, Dr Holohan said, adding that health officials want individuals to feel safe enough to self-identify and report their symptoms  (symptoms of Covid-19 include a cough, fever and shortness of breath).  Did the Port of Cork follow such a procedure?

BUILDING CONFIDENCE

The doctor also pointed out that if individuals feel that they’re not in a position to report symptoms, ‘it reduces the chance that we can detect these cases and put in place the containment measures around them … That’s the reason that we have airport information and other information (on Covid-19):  to give people guidance as to what they do when they travel here from an affected area’.

Did the Port of Cork have such a procedure in place?

Indeed, to what extent can the Port of Cork be sure that the virus was not carried by passengers or crew? A coherent answer would alleviate the fears and anxiety currently gripping Cobh and also ensure continuing confidence in the activities of the Port authority.

BAN ON LINERS!

Indeed, so seriously is Fine Gael Cllr Sinéad Sheppard taking the matter that she has called for all cruise liners to be prohibited from docking in Cobh.

Dramatic, but understandable, and an inevitable response to ongoing criticism of the Port of Cork.  She told RTÉ that ‘every precaution possible must be taken to ensure the communities of Cork and Cobh are kept safe.  These are unprecedented times.  Usually, here in Cobh, we’re celebrating liners coming in every year.’

But, she pointed out, although Cobh was expecting over 100 liners this year, the situation was now extremely worrying.  ‘Cork is Ireland’s second largest seaport after Dublin and handles both cargo and passenger ships.  We just feel, as residents of the town, whether there’s a virus on this ship (the MV Saga Sapphire) or not, that we need to take every precaution possible to ensure our own communities are kept safe from this virus.’

107 MORE LINERS

Putting it bluntly, with the threat of Covid-19 hanging over the town, Ms Sheppard’s call for a ban on cruise liners visiting Cobh is in line with what happens elsewhere. In Bergen, Norway, for instance, all cruise passengers have been prohibited from exiting the ship while docked in the city.

So, well said, Cllr Sheppard!  Within the context of a shutdown of schools, colleges and childcare facilities, and the enormous upheaval that such an action is creating for all of us, no commercial outfit – however big and important –r should be in a position to impinge on the health and well-being of others.

Oh, we nearly forgot. On March 23rd, the liner Marco Polo will be in Cobh, having sailed from Spain where daily life is grinding to a halt with a daily death toll in excess of 200 and an infection rate of over 7,000!

After that, the Port of Cork has plans for 107 cruise liners to visit Cork/Cobh in the coming months (passenger numbers could reach 206,000).  Are they mad?

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