There is a well known Biblical phrase: “As ye sow, so shall ye reap”.
Today, thousands of miles apart, two countries are grappling with the humanitarian crisis facing cruise ships in a debate without compassion and, some may feel, with a degree of racism.
Holland America Line finally received confirmation it could disembark guests from Zaandam and Rotterdam in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The two ships were forced to sail the Panama Canal with sick and elderly passengers on board – 131 of them Australians – because South American countries refused them sanctuary.
But their happy outcome today was not without the torture of a long debate. Governor Ron DeSantis said his state was willing to accept Floridians on board the cruise ships. But no-one else.
“My concern is that we have worked so hard to make sure we have adequate hospital space in the event of a Covid-19 surge, we wouldn’t want those valuable beds to be taken because of the cruise ship,” DeSantis said.
There are 808 guests and 583 crew on the Rotterdam and 442 guests and 603 crew on the Zaandam, according to Holland America. There are 311 American citizens, including 52 Floridians.
Mr DeSantis expressed concerns about taking in others given the state’s limited hospital beds.
“We are going to be willing to accept Floridians on board,” he told reporters. “My understanding is most of the passengers are foreign nationals.”
Perhaps surprisingly, President Donald Trump intervened. “People are dying on the ship, or at least very sick, but they are dying on the ship,” Mr Trump said. “So, I’m going to do what is right.”
Holland America Line called for compassion and reason. Two commodities in short supply during the weeks when thousands were marooned on ships.
Off the coast of NSW, eight vessels with 8,615 men and women from 51 countries are awaiting their fate because the NSW government refuses to allow them to disembark. These are the men and women who have made tens of thousands of Australians happy on their annual holidays.
Australia’s oldest cruise line, P&O Australia, has been banished from Sydney Harbour after 88 years sailing our waters, giving thousands upon thousands of Australian families their annual holiday.
And instead of a dialogue, a war in which Carnival’s President Sture Myremel features in pre-recorded videos while NSW Police chief Mick Fuller holds press conferences appears to be the only communication.
Mr Fuller maintains all the ships should go back to their ports or origin, as they are a danger to the state’s scant medical resources – an argument echoed in Florida.
“If there are sick people on board, we are going to deal with that in a humanitarian way. If the ships are safe to sail, they should sail.”
Mr Myrmell is appealing for compassion and humanity.
Australia’s legal position is dubious. As we pointed out last week, under United Nations charters we are obliged to aid those in peril on the seas.
On both sides of the debate, and on two continents, it’s a moral issue. But thanks to COVID-19, morality has changed in the past two months.
Just to recap: the cruise industry has delivered $5.2 billion to the economy, 18,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in wages.
Good luck replacing that economic contribution during the next two years.
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