SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Grand Princess re-entered the San Francisco Bay Tuesday on a resupply mission, an unannounced return that was greeted by protests from maritime union officials and local community groups over the treatment of its Filipino crewmembers and the safety of dockworkers during the current coronavirus outbreak.
The ship — which has been the focal point of the coronavirus outbreak in Northern California — ended a 14-day quarantine over the weekend and cruised under the Golden Gate Bridge for an undisclosed destination.
It turned out that destination was a holding pattern in international waters off the Northern California coast. On Tuesday morning, the ship steamed back under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading for Pier 35 on the San Francisco waterfront.
For more than a month, the virus-infected cruise ship has been sailing in and out of the Bay Area as crew members languish in what must feel like an eternal quarantine.
The re-supply mission was not announced by federal, state or cruise lines officials. However, maritime unions and community groups were alerted to the plan and organized protests.
“It’s a corporation that doesn’t treat workers as humans!” hollered Adrian Bonifacio through a bullhorn. A group of protesters, mostly Filipino activists, showed up to demand the crew be removed from the ship.
“These ships that are contaminated need to be decommissioned, disinfected the right way. And we can’t have the workers on there because they’re at high risk of exposure,” said Terry Valen, President of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.
A Filipino crew member was taken to a local hospital for treatment after testing positive for COVID-19, but succumbed to the illness.
The protesters had not spoken with any of the multi-national crew members, but they said they were pushed to action by a video posted in mid-March by some workers from India pleading to be taken off the ship.
“We are feeling very alone…we are waiting to reunite with our families as soon as possible,” the workers said in the video.
But in the middle of Tuesday’s protest, word came that no one would be leaving the ship that day. Princess Cruises said it only docked to take on more supplies. The company said most of the crew completed a two-week quarantine on Saturday and they are waiting for one more worker to finish isolating on Thursday.
At that point, they said, the crew will meet the CDC’s definition of “recovered.” The company said it is working on a plan to get its workers back to their home countries, but the statement continues, “In the interim, all crew fleetwide will remain onboard in the care of Princess until which time a plan of repatriation can be successfully executed.”
Until that happens, the protesters are demanding that the ship stays right where it is.
“Princess Cruise Lines needs to make sure that this ship doesn’t go anywhere else and further jeopardize workers who are still on board,” Valen said.
But it looks like the ship will not be around for long. Another statement late Tuesday from the Port of San Francisco says the Grand Princess will only remain for 24 to 36 hours and will then leave the Bay again, returning only for more provisions every 7 to 14 days.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
The drama surrounding the ship began with a Feb. 11 roundup trip voyage from San Francisco to the Mexican Rivera. Once the passengers departed the boat on Feb. 21, a number of passengers came down with the coronavirus.
One former passenger — a 71-year-old Rocklin man — became the first California resident to die from the disease. A second, a woman in her 70s, also died of the illness, becoming Marin County’s first fatality from COVID-19.
While the February cruise outbreak grew, the ship was on a round trip cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii. It was recalled but as it approached the Northern California coast, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would not allow it to dock anywhere in the state until passengers and crew members with flu-like symptoms were given tests for the coronavirus. 45 were tested, with 19 crew members and two passengers diagnosed with the disease.
The ship lingered off the coast until federal, state and local officials agreed to allow it to dock under heavy security at the Port of Oakland on March 9.
Looking out his cabin window on that day, Eddie Castellano, a passenger from Miami, told KPIX 5 in the telephone interview that the dockside was filled with military personnel and ambulances.
“I see some military outside the ship right now,” he said. “I see a lot of military. I see a lot of ambulances… It looks like a war zone. I’m terrified. I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve never been through something like this in my life before…I’m worried about the 3,000 people on this boat and their health.”
The majority of the 2,000-plus passengers aboard and hundreds of crew members were allowed off the boat in waves over a five-day stretch. They were examined for any sign of the illness in medical tents on the dock. The American passengers were taken to one of four military bases across the county for a 14-day quarantine period. The foreign nationals were returned to their home county.
More than 20 tested positive for the illness and were distributed to hospitals and care sites around Northern California.
According to a statement released by Health and Human Services officials last week, two passengers who departed the boat died as a result of complications from a coronavirus infection.
One of the passengers had been taken directly to a local hospital from the ship, federal officials said, while a second died after being quarantined among the Northern California passengers at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. Both were men in their 60s.
Few other details about the deaths were released, but federal authorities did say one died on March 21 and the other passed away on March 23. The hospitals where the deaths occurred were not released.