A cruise ship sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic may tie up in Eastport for the summer, but some residents said they’re worried that the crew could drain local resources and potentially infect the local population.

The Port Authority of Eastport has approved a plan for the MS Riviera, operated by Oceania Cruises, to dock at its breakwater until at least the end of June. The Riviera is currently berthed at a cruise ship terminal in Miami, a spokesman for Oceania said, but he declined to answer other questions about the ship.

The Riviera is about 750 feet long and can carry about 1,250 passengers.

In Eastport, the ship would have no passengers and a crew of only about 110, said Chris Gardner, executive director of the port authority. He said crew members would stay aboard the vessel and have their temperatures and oxygen levels checked twice daily. Provisions would be delivered directly to the ship, he said.

Gov. Janet Mills asked the port authority to clear its plans with the Eastport City Council, Gardner said, even though the authority is an independent agency and not under city control. Gardner said it’s unclear if city officials could block the plan, which would earn the authority about $1,500 a day, if they chose to oppose it.

The ship could arrive as early as next week, Gardner said.


A spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation said the Mills administration is waiting for the Eastport council, which will meet Wednesday, to act on the plan.

Paul Merrill also said the Maine CDC is reviewing Oceania’s plan for safety and public health and relying on the cruise line to make sure crew members stay aboard the entire time the Riviera is in Eastport. The only exceptions would those who get state approval to leave and go home.

Oceania, owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, asked the authority to block out berthing space for the ship for May and June, Gardner said, with an option for July. Plans beyond that are uncertain, he said.

Eastport may have been chosen because it has the facilities to handle a large ship, Gardner said, and also because it’s located away from the typical path of hurricanes that could threaten cruise ships that remain on the Southeast coast. Typically, large ships deal with hurricanes by heading to sea, where they can sail around them, but that would require taking on more crew and add the expense of operating the ship.

Money earned from the berthing fees could go toward paying down debt the authority took on when it repaired the breakwater, Gardner said.

Dozens of cruise ships are tying up for the summer or cruising offshore without passengers after the industry was derailed by the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention banned cruises in U.S. waters in April, and the Miami Herald reported this week that dozens of ships without passengers are anchored or slowly cruising off the coast of Florida.


The Miami Herald’s analysis found that 578 crew members have contracted COVID-19 while aboard ships after operators canceled summer cruises. The newspaper also said that hundreds of crew members haven’t been paid as the ships sit or cruise slowly, occasionally going into ports in Florida to get supplies and refuel.

In March, before cruises were shut down, one passenger was taken off the Riviera after developing symptoms of COVID-19, the illness spawned by the virus. The passenger later tested positive for the disease, but no positive tests among other passengers or crew have been reported.

Gardner said the plan to allow the ship to tie up still needs U.S. Coast Guard approval, and officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection have told him that crew members will not be allowed to disembark while it’s in Eastport. That means the crew would comply with Mills’ order that from out-of-state quarantine for at least 14 days after arriving in Maine.

Gardner said fresh water and sewage collection facilities are available at the breakwater. The port authority also would supply a security team, and water and sewage fees, along with the cost of security, would be borne by the cruise line.

Ravin Gustafson, who lives a short distance from the breakwater, said she opposes the plan to bring in the Riviera because she doesn’t trust the cruise line or the port authority.

She said the city has only one small health center where a crew member might be able to get treatment if he or she became ill. The nearest hospitals are in Calais and Machias, each more than a half-hour’s drive away.


“We’re worried about our resources being stretched,” she said. “We’re worried that nobody is listening to us.”

Gustafson said Eastport, a small city of about 1,200 people that borders Canada, has largely avoided the coronavirus, and she worries that relative safety could be compromised just as town businesses are starting to reopen.

“If this town is locked down because of this ship … I don’t know if I can handle it,” she said.

Jenie Smith, a retired doctor in Eastport, said she, too, is worried that the ship could bring the virus to a part of the state that has been largely spared and overwhelm local medical resources.

Smith said she was relieved when port authority officials told residents this week that crew members won’t be allowed off the ship, but she remains wary.

“Now is not a time when anybody can be comfortable when people say they’re following the rules,” Smith said. “We have been incredibly lucky here, and I hate to see one bad decision undo that.”

Smith said the population around Eastport would be particularly vulnerable if the coronavirus began to circulate.

“My husband and I own a coffee shop and, at this time of year, (customers) are all over 80,” she said.

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