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Bowing to a surge of public concern coupled with a tidal wave of common sense, the Princess Cruises company announced that the Grand Princess cruise ship will not be stopping in Santa Barbara on March 24 as previously scheduled, nor will its 3,500 passengers be disembarking in our town anytime soon. The cruise ship is currently carrying at least 21 passengers infected with the coronavirus, or COVID-19, which killed one passenger from a previous cruise on the ship.
“I appreciate Princess Cruises taking action and protecting the safety of the community and passengers,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo in a press release. “We are asking other cruise lines to follow their lead and take a serious cautious approach.” Currently, 10 other cruise ships are slated to visit Santa Barbara between now and June. The announcement came just hours after City Hall requested they cancel the stop-over in Santa Barbara. The city will be asking the other ten cruise lines to cancel their trips as well.
Initially, City Hall was reluctant to ban the cruise lines from coming. What’s next, some councilmembers asked, airplanes and trains? Economically, they argued, banning cruise ships sends a grim message to the South Coast’s struggling tourism industry: that Santa Barbara is closed for business. Cruise ship passengers reportedly contribute $4 million to the local economy annually.
To date, it remains uncertain whether the City of Santa Barbara has the legal authority to unilaterally ban such ships from entering the harbor absent a concurring opinion from the county’s chief health officer. Privately, city officials had been hoping for an across-the-board statewide edict against cruise ships issued by the governor or California’s highest-ranking health authorities. But with Princess Cruises emerging as the poster child of everything that can possibly go wrong on a cruise ship, the urgency for such reinforcements has — at least for the time being — proven unnecessary.
Currently, the Grand Princess is docked in Oakland and its passengers quarantined for at least two weeks. This and many other ramifications of the gathering pandemic will be discussed by both the county supervisors and the Santa Barbara City Council this Tuesday, March 10. To date, no cases have been reported in Santa Barbara County.