Cruise passengers baffled at being ‘held captive’ in Belfast

Bafflement has been voiced after cruise passengers were told they could not disembark in Belfast.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 12:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th August 2021, 5:17 pm
The Celebrity Silhouette

One passenger told ‘The Nolan Show’ this morning that they could not make sense of why, or on whose authority, they were being confined to the vessel.

The ship in question was called the Celebrity Silhouette.

It is a 122,400-tonne, 1,047ft-long, 2,902-capacity vessel, and was in the city from 7.30am to 5pm on Wednesday.

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A female passenger spoke out on the Nolan Show, saying over 600 people had been allowed to disembark for pre-arranged tours, but a similar number were not allowed to leave the ship to roam freely around the city.

“We feel as if we’re being held captive here, people have planned to meet family and friends they haven’t seen for 18 months,” she said.

“We phoned everybody. The port authority – they said it wasn’t them, but they’d spoken to the police.

“The police said it’s the health authority.

“We spoke to the health manager, and they said it’s the ship.

“So we’ve gone round in a big circle.”

Then another cruise ship, the MSC Virtuosa, entered port on Thursday.

It is less clear what the situation was onboard that vessel, although one passenger told the News Letter that – just like on the Silhouette – people could only leave the ship for pre-booked tours.

The News Letter asked Belfast City Council what was going on, to which it responded: “The Public Health Agency (PHA) are the authority who issue advice and guidance on infectious disease control matters, including Covid-19.

“The role of Belfast City Council’s Port Health team is to provide assistance to PHA by relaying their advice to arriving vessels.

“The information that has been provided by Belfast City Council’s Port Health team to the Celebrity Silhouette, is advice issued by the PHA.”

The PHA was contacted, but responded with a 316-word statement which explained nothing.

Instead the PHA suggested that it could not talk about the cruise ship because this could “lead to people being identified” and “create stigma”.

FULL 317-WORD STATEMENT FROM PHA OFFICIALS:

The PHA statement said: “The Public Health Agency (PHA) has been working closely with Belfast Harbour, BCC Port Health, cruise operators and other partners to support the safe return of cruise ship operations.

“A number of cruise ships have visited Belfast in recent months, and this will continue in the months ahead – COVID-19 regulations permitting.

“As part of the current process for hosting cruise vessels in Northern Ireland, the PHA provides public health advice to assist in minimising risk to guests, crew and the wider public.

“The public health advice reflects a precautionary approach and is issued based on the particular circumstances of each cruise vessel.

“We will continue to work closely with partners to support the facilitating of cruise visits to Northern Ireland, recognising that each visit presents its own unique set of circumstances which have to be considered as part of the wider response to COVID-19.

“The general approach taken to the public health assessment of cruise vessels and the provision of advice has been operational for many years, and applies to other notifiable diseases aside from COVID-19.

“This is nothing new, and is a robust process as per the International Health Regulations.

“As part of Port Health normal business arrangements in accordance with the regulations and in adherence to legislative requirements, the PHA works in partnership with Port Health and Harbour Commissioners.

“As with all incidents in relation to COVID-19 outbreaks, we do not comment on individual cases of COVID-19 or go into the detail of every incident that emerges, as this could lead to people being identified, create stigma and focus attention on individuals, families or groups, and therefore deter others with symptoms coming forward to be tested or seeking public health advice.

“In any circumstance where there is potential wider risk to the public, then the appropriate infection control advice/ actions would be carried out and when appropriate this would be communicated to the public.”

It was put to the PHA that this statement does not explain why people are confined to the ship.

A response is awaited.

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