Australia announced on Friday that it would not allow the crew of several virus-stricken cruise ships to reach the country, slapping aside suggestions that legal and moral responsibilities were being shortened.
It is estimated that more than a dozen ships are off the coast of Australia carrying about 15,000 crew members and some suffering coronavirus outbreaks.
“We have issued notices to all of these ships to leave Australian waters,” Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram told local media Friday.
“If ever there was a time, I think, for ships to go back to where they’re registered, it’s probably during a time of a global pandemic like this.”
Many vessels fly under flags of convenience — registered to countries such as Panama, the Bahamas and Liberia, which have scant capacity to screen or treat an influx of possible virus carriers.
The issue has become a global problem.
Cruise ships are looking for safe ports from Florida to Yokohama and Perth.
But angry authorities accused the multi-billion dollar cruise industry of being reckless.
Australian authorities said they will not risk unleashing a wave of COVID-19-positive people into the country, with local health services already scrambling to increase capacity.
Cruise ships have already accounted for almost 10 percent of Australia’s more than 5,000 infections and several deaths.
And the issue has become politically fraught, with local pundits dubbing the vessels “Death Ships” and one nervous state leader calling for the navy to intercept a cruise ship full of German tourists.
Attitudes hardened when the government allowed 2,700 passengers to walk off the Ruby Princess in Sydney last month, despite a cruise ship ban being in place.
More than 300 of the passengers later tested positive for COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his controversial home affairs minister have sought to publicly distance themselves from the mistake, leaving state authorities and the security services to comment.