ATHENS — Greek authorities on Friday began to evacuate a ship off the coast of Piraeus on which almost a third of passengers have coronavirus.
The plan is to transfer the non-infected passengers off the ship — the Eleftherios Venizelos — and leave those who have the virus on board, effectively turning the ship into a floating hospital.
Some 119 people on board have been quarantined after testing positive for the coronavirus, while the the remaining 261 will be gradually transferred to a hotel where they will remain in isolation before being sent home. Another two have been hospitalized. A nurse who is on board and has tested positive will be in charge of organizing the quarantine, Greek authorities said. A doctor will make regular visits.
“We follow a different policy than the one adopted in other cases,” Christos Hadjichristodoulou, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Thessaly who is in charge of the operation, told POLITICO. He said that in other cases of ships on which there have been outbreaks, including the Diamond Princess, the authorities removed patients who had tested positive and left everybody else on the ship.
“Ships are places where it’s easy to promote the transmission of diseases and it is impossible to have a successful quarantine,” he said. “The space is tight, not aired properly, while a person who is placed in quarantine himself also has to be in charge of the quarantine and take care of people being fed or take their temperature.”
Spanish authorities would not allow it to dock as the pandemic took hold.
Passengers on the Greek-owned Eleftherios Venizelos have been stuck on board for nearly a month, as successive countries refused to allow the vessel to dock.
According to Greek and Turkish officials, the ship, which belongs to the Greek company ANEK, had been chartered by Turkey’s Miray International Shipping Management, which provides support services for large cruise ships.
It set off on March 7 from Çeşme in Turkey to transfer technicians — mainly from Turkey, but also from Ukraine, Indonesia and Switzerland — to a shipyard in the Spanish city of Cádiz.
But Spanish authorities would not allow it to dock as the pandemic took hold. The ship returned to Turkey and requested permission to approach the port of Aliağa in Izmir province, but this too was rejected. Authorities suggested that Turkish nationals could be brought ashore on small ships, but the captain said that would be dangerous.
On March 21 the vessel arrived at the Greek port of Piraeus, but was not allowed to dock and remained anchored off the coast.
Then earlier this week, two people on board — a 74-year-old from Switzerland and a 34-year-old from Indonesia — got sick, tested positive and were transferred to hospital. Tests showed that the virus had spread and the ship was finally allowed to dock on Thursday evening.
“We are closely following the situation … as 160 of her crew are Turkish citizens,” Turkish Ambassador to Athens Burak Özügergin told POLITICO. “We are assured by both the Greek authorities and the Turkish shipping firm that the medical and daily needs of both those on the ship and the people on board are being — and will be — met in an adequate and timely manner.”