The BDN is making the most crucial coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact in Maine free for all readers. Click here for all coronavirus stories. You can join others committed to safeguarding this vital public service by purchasing a subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
Having already welcomed one idle cruise ship to its waterfront to wait out the global COVID-19 pandemic, Eastport is considering a second ship’s request to tie up in Maine’s easternmost city.
The 785-foot Riviera, owned and operated by Oceania Cruises, arrived in Eastport without any passengers on June 14 and is expected to stay in the city with only a reduced crew until the industry prepares to resume operations, which could happen this fall. As required by state and federal officials, the crew is staying on the vessel and is not accepting any visitors in order to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus.
Now, local officials are in discussions with Norwegian Cruise Lines about hosting the 848-foot Norwegian Sun cruise ship, which also would have no passengers and would observe the same coronavirus-related protocols. If the ship were to come to Eastport, possibly early next month, it would tie up at the cargo shipping facility at Estes Head rather than at the breakwater pier, which is only big enough for one large ship.
The Norwegian Sun has space for more than 1,900 guests and a crew of more than 900. Eastport is home to fewer than 1,300 residents.
Chris Gardner, executive director of the city’s port authority, said shipping traffic at the cargo terminal has been slower than expected, even with the COVID-19 pandemic, and that hosting a ship at that site likely would be easier than local officials had expected even a month or so ago.
“We had anticipated our cargo operations would have rebounded by now, but they have not,” Gardner said, describing the recent activity level at the terminal as “stagnant.”
Norwegian Cruise Lines, like Oceania Cruises, would pay a docking fee to the city, which has been working to pay back a loan it received to rebuild the breakwater pier after it partially collapsed in 2014. At $2 per foot per day, the Norwegian Sun would pay the city $1,696 a day to tie up at Estes Head, more than the $1,570 per day the city is getting from the Riviera.
Maine ports, primarily Bar Harbor and Portland, typically get a couple hundred cruise ship visits each summer and fall, but none have shown up with passengers in 2020 as the industry has been forced to suspend operations. Several cruise ships around the world were struck with the coronavirus this past spring and the virus spread easily in ships with high numbers of passengers staying close together. Some had passengers who died from the disease before the ships were forced to return to their home ports.
With the industry shut down and no ships at sea, berthing space in the industry’s usual home ports has been hard to come by, forcing cruise lines to look elsewhere to park their vessels.
There was some local trepidation about hosting the Riviera because of concerns about how the disease spread on cruise ships prior to the industry being shut down, Gardner said. But no one on the ship has shown any sign of illness, he said, and both the ship’s reduced crew and local officials are making sure there is no physical contact between people on the ship and people on shore.
Gardner said that most people in Eastport and the surrounding area seem to have no objections to hosting the Riviera, and that he expects they would feel the same about the Norwegian Sun.
“I think it’s gone extremely well,” Gardner said of the Riviera’s presence in the city. “Eastport has always been a welcoming community.”