US Coast Guard tells cruise liners: stay at sea with sick, seek evac. from flagged state first
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Bahamian government is in talks with the United States government over an advisory issued by the U. S. Coast Guard that cruise ships will be asked to seek aid from their flag state in cases of critically-ill passengers or crew.
The U.S. Coast Guard gave the directive in a bulletin, dated March 29, which advises cruise liners to prepare for sequestering for an indefinite time at sea.
The coast guard said due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases and its impact on mariners and vessel operations, an increased number of foreign passenger vessels have required medical evacuation of both stable and critically-ill patients, including those with COVID-19 symptoms.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis addressed the matter during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Yes, I’m aware of that and there is an ongoing discussion between ourselves and the United States government,” he said in response to questions from the media.
The prime minister also pointed out that as the world has closed its borders, The Bahamas has closed its borders.
He said: “Countries have had to do this to prevent the spread of a virus that has the potential to kill many people.”
In its advisory, the US Coast Guard said while the organization continues to prioritize the safety of life at sea, the increase in medical evacuations has strained local medical resources and that strain is expected to increase.
It noted that medical facilities in the port of Miami, for example, were no longer accepting medical evacuation patients due to limited hospital capacity and it is expected that neighboring counties will follow suit.
To mitigate the overwhelming local medical resources, the coast guard said “all vessels operating within the seventh district AOR with more than 50 persons on board should increase their medical capabilities, personnel and equipment in order to care for individuals with ILIs (influenza-like illness) for an indefinite period of time”.
It said: “This is necessary as shore-side medical facilities may reach full capacity and lose the ability to accept and effective treat additionally critically-ill patients.”
It continued: “Foreign flagged vessels that loiter beyond U.S. territorial seas, particularly those registered to The Bahamas, that require a MEDEVAC to a shoreside facility should seek flag state support prior to seeking support from the limited facilities in the U.S.”
The coast guard said while an improvised field hospital was being considered, “it must be considered that a potential evacuee has better access to comfortable surrounding and medical staff on board the foreign passenger vessel where care is already being provided”.
A number of Bahamian-flagged cruise liners remain in Bahamian waters.