One of the nation’s largest cruise operators is offering up its ships as part of the effort to quell the coronavirus outbreak, President Donald Trump said Thursday.© Getty Carnival Cruise Lines “Carnival Freedom” leaves the port in Key West, Florida February 21, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Carnival Corp. said it will offer select ships for use in response to the crisis.
The company explained in a Thursday news release the ships would not be used for treating those with coronavirus or who are under quarantine. Rather, they are being made available for patients being treated for normal hospital stays – those recovering from surgeries or alike. Stay Informed
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The idea would be to free up beds in land-based hospitals so those beds could be used for the expected influx of coronavirus patients.
Trump said the offer came in a conversation with Carnival Chairman Micky Arison. The company, like the rest of the cruise industry, experienced a major shutdown after passengers on various cruise ships around the globe began contracting and spreading the virus. .
Now, the ships could serve a new role.
“He’s going to make ships available if we should need ships with lots of rooms,” Trump said. He said they would be docked in major coastal cities that have seen some of the biggest outbreaks, like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Carnival operates ships under the Carnival, Costa, P&O, Princess, Holland America, Seabou and Cunard brands.
“Carnival Corp. and its brands are calling on governments and health authorities to consider using cruise ships as temporary health care facilities to treat non-COVID-19 patients, freeing up additional space and expanding capacity in land-based hospitals to treat cases of COVID-19,” the company said in a news release.
Carnival said it asks that the government cover only the ships’ “essential costs” in port.
Trump called it a “generous offer.” He said Arison told him that he has ships “ideally suited for what we’re doing.” The ships are “big and they have a lot of rooms, so we appreciate it from Carnival.”
With cities facing a projected shortfall in the number of hospital beds that will be needed, the Navy is already preparing to dispatch two hospital ships, the Comfort and Mercy, to cities where they could be pressed into service. The East Coast-based Comfort will go to New York City. The destination of the Mercy, based in San Diego, is yet to be disclosed.
With the virus having been declared a national emergency, some say it could be an important step to prevent deaths.
“I think it’s a good idea, obviously we’re going to have a shortage of hospital beds and shortage of supplies and need to think creatively in times of what could be extreme scarcity when a lot of people might die unnecessarily,” Lawrence Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told USA TODAY.
Cruise ships offer a lot of space. However, there are a few things, Gostin said, that would need to be done in order to make sure that using those ships for hospital overflow is safe. The ships would have to be thoroughly disinfected before being pressed into service.
“If those things were accomplished, I do think it would be a useful step,” Gostin said. “Nobody is going on cruise ships anyway, so that’s capacity that could be deployed for the good of the nation.”
This isn’t the first time that using passenger ships in times of need or crisis for alternative purposes has come up.
Peter Knego, cruise historian, told USA TODAY that in times of war passenger vessels have been transformed into troop carriers.
“In World War I and World War II it was ocean liners,” he said referencing the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth, which were both retrofitted to carry soldiers during the Second World War. “They’d take out all the luxury appointments on the ship and turn them into troop transports.”
After war, the ships were returned to their companies and restored as passenger ships.
And during natural disasters ships that are out of work have been put to use, too. For example, following the 1986 earthquake in Kalamata, Greece, a ship was moved to port to create accommodations for displaced people, Knego explained.
It’s a great idea, Knego added, though it’s not without a major challenge: A ticking clock. It will take weeks to ready ships with the equipment needed to carry out hospital-level care.
Jaime M. Katz, a travel and leisure investment analyst at Morningstar, told USA TODAY that it could be a defensive decision for a cruise line to offer their ships as overflow space.
“I think it’s one of the better practical moves that they’ve made because the government will likely pay them,” she said.
And it could benefit both the industry and the government.
“Rather than have no revenue coming in and or the government paying for a brand new hospital to be built, this is an efficient way for the government to find extra space and for the cruise operates to utilize extra capacity right now.”
“It’s a win-win situation for both,” Knego said. “If Carnival doesn’t have to shut the ship down then it’s good for the ships too. It’s very expensive to get (a cruise ship) back in working order.”