An interesting and potentially deadly subtext to the coronavirus crisis is the fate of several luxury cruise liners. Refused entry by many ports, a few of these monster vessels with their passengers and crews isolated inside their cabins and breathing recycled air, and suffering all the horrors of COVID19, had to roam the seas while searching for a safe landing. While the coronavirus epidemic was confined to the Far East a few of these ships were named and located. They were allowed to berth for quarantine, but many more are still at sea and in all parts of the world. They are now operating with increasing secrecy and many cannot be identified or tracked by software.
There are approximately sixty luxury cruise liners in current operation with a deadweight greater than 120,000 tonnes. Another forty-two such ships are currently on order, or under construction.
In environmental terms, each of these ships is an abomination: they produce exhaust fumes as prolifically as 700 large trucks. They leave a vast trail of human waste in their wake. Like all ships, they secretly clean out and dump the waste from their fuel tanks at sea. They severely damage both the infrastructure of the ports they call at, and the social dynamics of the towns they visit – Venice is the most famous example of this, but it is true of many other places, including the Scottish islands.
Today, our local paper Isle of Bute News reports that this part of Scotland, with its multiple sea lochs and inlets, has recently been attracting many such luxury yachts and cruise liners. Several of these ships have been refused entry to French and Italian ports. They have all switched off their identifying transmitters, and so become invisible to tracking software. A few berthed briefly in Greenock, then moved on. They cannot land crew or passengers without health clearance, so many of them are anchored at sea, or more often in convenient inlets between the hills.
Practical information about these Flying Dutchmen, modern plague ships secretly wandering the seas, can be found here.