Swine flu goes to sea

The business boon that coastal Western Canada has been enjoying of late, is coming to an end. Since the end of April, major cruise operators, RCCL and Carnival, have diverted several ships from Mexican ports to BC ports amid the H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreak, centered in the Mexico City region.

Mariner of the Seas, (the bridge pictured to the right) one of the largest passenger vessels in the world, call in to Nanaimo, my fair city in mid May. If you had asked me to predict the probability of that happening in the past, I would have laughed. Mexico’s challenges have brought Western Canadian tourist destination a welcomed business opportunity, but this will quickly come to an end as the ships resume calling their scheduled Mexican destinations.

The cruise market is predominately filled with US consumers. US cabotage laws (Jones Act) restricts the operation of foreign vessels within US territorial waters. A foreign ship cannot carry on trade from one US port to another without major penalties; these are trade protective measures for the USA, and common to many countries. A foreign ship must go to another nation’s port, then the voyage becomes international, and out of reach of the Jone Act enforcers.

The way to get around these restrictions is to have a US built and crewed vessel on the trade, which operators find prohibitive – cost wise. Another is to visit a foreign ports, such as the ones in Mexico and Canada, as long as they are just over the border, that’s fine. Visiting these ports then fulfills the obligations under the Jones Act. That’s why it may seem a bit strange for a ships to leave Los Angeles, filled with sun seekers, and ending up in Nanaimo – mind you, May was a beautiful weather month. I was certainly surprised to see the Mariner of the Seas off the beach.

Here‘s a local media story on the subject.

Meanwhile, down under, P&O Australia’s Pacific Dawn (ex Regal Princess) was reported, by local media, diverted by health authorities. One passenger and one crew members were suspected to be infected with the H1N1 swine flu strain, company officials later said that the test came back negative and that no passenger has the strain on board. Three other crew members on board, confirmed as having the flu strain, were quarantined, and subsequently fully recovered according to the company.

Meanwhile, P&O Australia, and parent company, Carnival, is in full damage control mode releasing press releases and video on their company website and the ship’s blog, correcting what they feel is mis-information by the media.

Until now the effects of swine flu in Australia were rather minimal. According to USA Today, the trouble with the swine flu outbreak on the Pacific Dawn, actually started the previous cruise, where 18 crew and passengers who disembarked in Sidney, were later confirmed to have the flu virus H1N1.

That brought Australia’s total case count at the time to 24, that number was revised by Government officials on Wednesday evening, to 66 and they are expecting a spike in infections. As of yesterday the H1N1 swine flu has infected 12,954 people in 46 countries and played a role in the death of 100 people.

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