News & Opinion | May 10, 2021 6:32 am

The Red Cross is Using Cruise Ships for Pandemic Quarantine in Italy

A new spin on cruise ships and the pandemic

Cruise ships
Some cruise ships have found a new purpose during the pandemic.
Patrick Van Brussel/Unsplash

A year ago, during the first wave of the pandemic, a host of alarming stories emerged about cruise ships that were home to outbreaks of COVID-19. The effects of that led to a host of aftereffects, including leaving cruise ship employees stranded at sea and inspiring a gripping documentary. Now, cruise ships and the pandemic are intersecting in a new and different way — only this time, the outcome looks much less unsettling.

At The Atlantic, Ian Urbina reports on a new effort by the Red Cross taking place off the coast of Italy, in which otherwise inactive cruise ships play a significant role. Currently, 9 cruise ships are in use after being chartered by the Italian Red Cross. Their purpose? Provide a place where migrants rescued from crossing the Mediterranean can stay and quarantine.

Unable to get press access to the ships, Urbina volunteered with the Red Cross, and wrote about what he saw from that perspective. Among his observations: changing the function of these cruise ships also changed the atmosphere on board. “For all its wood paneling and velvet upholstery, the ship felt less like a vacation destination than a nursing home — a place humid with worried waiting, and smelling of boiled broccoli and carrots,” Urbina wrote.

His description of his time aboard the cruise ship La Suprema also gives a sense of how many people were on board: “a few dozen” Red Cross personnel and “several hundred” migrants — generally hailing from “Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Bangladesh, or Eritrea.” When their period of quarantining came to a close, they’d be taken to the shore and moved to a facility there.

The whole article — complete with evocative photography — offers a perceptive and insightful look at a place where two nationwide efforts converge.