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ELLSWORTH, Maine — Citing a large volume of feedback on the subject, the Bar Harbor Town Council on Tuesday canceled all scheduled cruise ship visits through the end of June.
Councilor Jill Goldthwait said councilors had received an “extraordinary volume of email” from residents about the expected visits from ships, several of which have had passengers and crew get sick from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic.
Goldthwait said that many who live in Bar Harbor have recommended cancelling the 2020 cruise ship season altogether — nearly 200 visits between late April and early November that’s projected to bring nearly 300,000 passengers to the town — but she thinks the decision is premature.
“I think Bar Harbor needs to take action,” she said. “Our community is very concerned and anxious about this.”
The town council already had canceled two visits scheduled for late April, and some cruise firms had canceled additional scheduled visits on their own.
Cruise ship visits in Portland, Maine’s second-busiest cruise ship port, scheduled on or before May 12 also have been canceled, according to information on the city’s website.
Many industry observers are expecting operators of large ships — those that can carry thousands of people and all of which are registered in foreign countries — to cancel their Maine visits from April through June because of a ban until July 1 on cruise ship operations in Canadian waters. In keeping with federal maritime laws, all foreign-registered cruise ships make stops in Canada as part of each trip along the Maine coast.
The Bar Harbor council’s decision to suspend all cruise ship visits through the end of June also applies to smaller cruise ships, which generally operate only in American waters.
Cruise ship visits are considered a major contributor to Maine’s coastal tourist economy each summer. According to cruise ship industry studies, passengers and cruise companies spend tens of millions of dollars in Maine each year.
The rest of the council agreed with Goldthwait, though some pointed out that millions of tourists visit Bar Harbor every year, and the vast majority of them arrive by land and stay at local hotels, campgrounds or rental properties. Those visitors also have the potential to spread the virus.
“I think we have to look at the whole picture here,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said, adding that the town’s tourism industry stands to get “pummeled” this year because of coronavirus concerns.
Some ships have canceled Bar Harbor visits after June 30.
Zaandam has canceled visits scheduled for July 5, Aug. 30, Sept. 13 and Sept. 27, but still has nine visits scheduled between July 3 and Oct. 24. The Holland America cruise ship, which can carry roughly 2,000 passengers and crew members, cut short a South American cruise last month after four passengers on board died, two of them from COVID-19.
Evrima, a ship that can carry roughly 550 passengers and crew, has canceled visits scheduled for Sept. 29, Oct. 4 and Oct. 26.