Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Transportation

Coronavirus Florida: With cruises suspended, empty ships anchor off Pinellas coast

An agreement allows cruise lines to park their passenger-less ships at sea because of limited space in Tampa’s port.

Stories about the coronavirus pandemic are free to read as a public service at tampabay.com/coronavirus. Sign up for our DayStarter newsletter to receive updates weekday mornings. If this coverage is important to you, consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tampa Bay Times at tampabay.com/subscribe.

• • •

ST. PETERSBURG — Out on a St. Patrick’s Day fishing trip, David Mokotoff and a buddy found themselves dwarfed by floating giants.

Three cruise ships had dropped anchor not far from one another in an area about 18 miles west of St. Pete Beach. Aboard his friend’s 26-foot boat, Mokotoff shot a video with his smart phone and wondered aloud why they were there.

“Three cruise ships parked,” the 72-year-old retired cardiologist says on the video as he pans from the Brilliance of the Seas looming nearby to two other ships in the distance. “I’m guessing they’re quarantined.”

No, but he’s not wrong that the coronavirus pandemic is a factor.

The ships are anchored there as part of an agreement with Port Tampa Bay, said Lisa Wolf-Chason, communications director for the port. With cruises suspended to limit the spread of the disease and port space limited, the cruise lines need a place to park their passenger-less ships. The ships occasionally come to the port and dock to get supplies, Wolf-Chason said.

“We’re allowing the ships that are docked off shore to come into port as needed to fill up on provisions and supplies for the crew they have on board,” she said. “None of them have passengers.”

Ports typically already have plans in place that allow for ships to anchor at designated locations offshore to wait out heavy fog, but this situation is different.

On March 13, Cruise Lines International Association suspended for 30 days all cruise ship operations to and from the United States. By then, a cruise ship called the Grand Princess that been stranded for days off the coast of California after passengers tested positive for the virus was finally able to sail into the Port of Oakland.

The suspension left the cruise lines in need of a place to keep their idled ships.

“It’s probably a very unique experience for our lifetime,” Wolf-Chason said.

The Port Tampa Bay agreement includes cruise lines that sail from the port and some that don’t: Carnival, Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian and Celebrity Cruises. The plan is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

On Thursday, three cruise ships were docked at the port and four more were anchored offshore, Wolf-Chason said.

The website marinetraffic.com showed the four ships: Celebrity’s Infinity, Silhouette and Summit, and Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, the 13-deck, nearly 1,000-foot long ship in Mokotoff’s video. A fifth ship owned by Carnival is on the way and will be anchored there by Monday, Wolf-Chason said.

Mokotoff spotted one cruise ship in the area during a paid fishing charter trip on Sunday. There were two more there when he and his friend returned on St. Patrick’s Day on the friend’s boat.

“We didn’t know if they were empty and just had no place to go, or if there were actually passengers on it,” he said in an interview.

Now the mystery is solved for Mokotoff and many other boaters who presumably wondered. And there seems to be a lot more boat traffic in area waters since officials have asked the public to stay home or at least avoid large groups to limit the spread of the disease.

“In terms of entertainment, you’re only exposed to one or two people and you’re out there on the ocean,” Mokotoff said. “For the value of your dollar and safety, what else can you do anymore?”

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.

STORES REACT TO VIRUS: Some businesses adjust hours or announce temporary closings.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

JOIN THE FACEBOOK GROUP: See updates and tips posts, and ask questions of our journalists.

FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Reddit.

LISTEN TO THE CORONAVIRUS PODCAST: New episodes every week, including interviews with experts and reporters

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips.

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.

To our Readers,
We are temporarily suspending comments on tampabay.com. The staff members tasked with managing this feature are devoted to our ongoing coronavirus pandemic coverage. We apologize for this inconvenience. If you want to submit a tip, please go to this page. You may also submit a letter to the editor.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement