Dubai welcomes unwanted cruise liners at sea amid virus fears

Dubai (AFP) –


Dubai has welcomed thirteen foreign cruise ships that were at sea while most countries had closed maritime borders due to the coronavirus pandemic, an Emirati official told AFP Wednesday.

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one of seven members, has officially reported more than 8,000 infections and 52 deaths from the COVID-19 disease.

Authorities in Dubai, an important global transport hub, have imposed a strict lockdown and suspended international travel.

"We have welcomed all boats that found themselves in the region, whether they were based in the Emirates or passing through," Mohammed Al Mannai, the executive director of Port Rashid, told AFP.

Thirteen cruise liners carrying 29,000 passengers and 10,000 crew members have been granted entry by Dubai port authorities, he said.

"We have taken the necessary strict measures with these arriving boats (including) carrying out medical tests," he said, adding that the passengers had spent "a long time" at sea before finding a port at which to berth.

The passengers and most crew members were flown home, 80 percent of whom were Europeans, he said, adding that none of them had tested positive for COVID-19.

The now empty cruise liners are still docked in Dubai, where they could remain until October, when Mannai hopes the tourist season might resume and the deserted port return to normal operation.

Tourism is normally low between May and September due to the extreme heat and humidity in the UAE.

Dubai, which lacks the oil wealth of neighbouring Abu Dhabi, has built its fortunes on becoming a transport hub, financial centre and tourist destination.

In 2019, Dubai welcomed 16 million tourists and before the coronavirus pandemic, had hoped to reach 20 million this year.