German cruise ship sets sail, hopes short trip thwarts virus

BERLIN (AP) — A German cruise ship is gingerly testing the water amid the coronavirus pandemic, setting sail for the first time since the industry was shut down months ago and using strict precautions to keep passengers and crew as safe as possible.

The TUI cruise ship “Mein Schiff 2” — literally “My Ship 2” — set sail for a weekend cruise in the North Sea late Friday night, the dpa news agency reported.

Occupancy was limited to 60% so passengers could keep their distance from one another, but even that level was not reached. The ship sailed off with 1,200 passengers on board compared to its normal 2,900 capacity. It was not reported how many crew were also on board.

The ship sailed from the northern port of Hamburg toward Norway, and passengers will spend the weekend at sea with no land stops before returning to Germany on Monday.

On board, passengers and crew are required to stay 1.5 meters (5 feet) away from one another or wear protective masks and they will not be able to serve themselves at the ship’s buffet. All passengers also had to fill out a health questionnaire before boarding and have their temperatures taken.

After being shut down for months, German cruise ship companies are hoping that shorter, strictly controlled trips will help restart the business that has been devastated by the pandemic, which brought global travel to a standstill, forced cruise ship companies to suspend operations and stranded thousands of passengers and crew worldwide.

Starting Aug. 5, the AIDA cruise operator will sail from Hamburg with its first trip since the pandemic shut operations down months ago, with a second to leave on Aug. 12 from Rostock and a third departing on Aug. 16 from Kiel, dpa reported.

Germany has been widely lauded for its efforts to contain its coronavirus outbreak. It has reported over 206,000 infections but kept deaths to 9,124 — only one-fifth of Britain's death toll. Germany is now in the process of reopening its economy, with strict guidelines on social distancing, mask use and personal hygiene measures.

U.S. health officials last week extended the U.S. ban on cruise ships through the end of September as coronavirus infections rise in most U.S. states, including Florida, a popular departure site for Caribbean cruises. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief, Dr. Robert Redfield, said in the order that cruise industry hasn’t yet controlled the transmission of the virus on its ships.

Dozens of coronavirus outbreaks have hit cruise ships, including the highly-publicized Diamond Princess cruise ship outbreak off Japan that saw 712 infections and 13 deaths.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

More From

  • China accuses US of harassing Chinese students, researchers

    China on Monday accused the United States of “monitoring, harassing and willfully detaining” Chinese students and researchers in the U.S. Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s comments follow the denial of a bail request in California for a university researcher accused of lying about her ties to China’s military and Communist Party to gain access to the United States. Wang said China had no intention of helping Juan Tang escape the country, but did not otherwise comment directly on the accusations against her.

  • Notre Dame Cathedral's organ getting 4-year-long cleaning

    Pipe by precious pipe, the organ that once thundered through Notre Dame Cathedral is being taken apart after last year's devastating fire. The mammoth task of dismantling, cleaning and re-assembling France’s largest musical instrument started Monday and is expected to last nearly four years.

  • Yemen Houthi rebels claim fighters shot down a US-made drone

    Yemen’s Houthi rebels claim they shot down a U.S.-made drone over the country's northern border with Saudi Arabia. Brig. Gen. Yehia Sarie, a Houthi military spokesman, said in a statement their air defenses downed an AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma drone Sunday over the district of Harad in Yemen's northern Hajjah province. Masking tape on its tail bore what appeared to be the palm-tree and crossed-swords logo of Saudi Arabia, Arabic written on the side read “God Bless You,” an inscription common on Saudi aircraft.

  • 2020 Watch: And the Democratic veepstakes winner is?

    Democrat Joe Biden is on the verge of picking a running mate, if he hasn't already, a decision that is likely the most significant of his decades-long political career. Trump spent much of last week decrying the expected surge in mail voting during the pandemic, going so far as to suggest delaying the election date. While congressional leaders in both parties slapped down the idea, Trump did not back away from the shocking suggestion or his baseless claims that the 2020 election will be rigged against him.