Updated | Maltese couple on cruise liner denied permission to disembark, public health chief says

Two Maltese nationals on an aborted cruise will have to return to Malta on a reptriation flight, Charmaine Gauci says, ruling out disembarkation when the ship passes by the islands on its way back to the UK

The Columbus in Grand Harbour (Credit: Karl Borg)
The Columbus in Grand Harbour (Credit: Karl Borg)

Updated at 1:10pm with Charmaine Gauci's statement

Two Maltese nationals on an aborted cruise have been denied disembarkation in Malta when the ship passes by the islands on its way back to the UK.

The categoric denial was reiterated by Public Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci on Wednesday afternoon.

"The couple do not have the virus and are healthy. They can continue with their cruise to England and return to Malta via a repatriation flight," Gauci said, ruling out any exception to the legal notice stopping passenger travel to Malta.

Earlier, MaltaToday reported that the cruise ship, Columbus, operated by CMV was returning to its homeport in Tilbury after the company cancelled all cruises on 14 March.

The couple, Marthese Bonello and Joseph Mercieca, both 70, boarded the Columbus on 25 February from Sydney, Australia.

But the 48-day cruise off South East Asia was truncated two weeks ago as the coronavirus pandemic shut ports and stopped travel.

The ship has since been on a non-stop return voyage to Tilbury, and until yesterday was in the Red Sea on its way to the Suez Canal, where it will enter the Mediterranean.

MaltaToday is informed that the Columbus is expected to arrive off Malta on 6 April and will refuel at sea.

The ship has requested the Maltese port authorities to allow Bonello and Mercieca to disembark when the vessel stops off the islands. They are the only Maltese passengers on board.

Transport Minister Ian Borg told MaltaToday that the request had, so far, been denied by Transport Malta, the shipping regulator.

The cruise liner is being provided with bunkering services outside Maltese territorial waters to enable the vessel to continue its passage to the final destination, Borg said.

The regulator has informed the ship that the transfer of passengers is not permitted in line with Legal Notice 92 of 2020 issued by Health Authorities and in this respect the request for disembarkation has been denied.

However, Borg said talks were underway between different ministries to try and find a solution for the two passengers.

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo said that “within the difficult context of Covid-19, the issue is complicated because of public health considerations” but confirmed that discussions were ongoing.

It appears now that the public health authorities have ruled out disembarkation and the two passengers will have to come back to Malta via a repatriation flight.

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