Coronavirus: Indonesia to evacuate its 188 citizens working on World Dream cruise ship

The World Dream cruise ship docked at the Kai Tak cruise terminal in Hong Kong on Feb 9, 2020. Indonesia has sent a navy ship to bring back 188 of its nationals working as crew aboard the liner. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Indonesian authorities plan to evacuate the 188 Indonesian nationals who work on board the World Dream cruise ship from Durian strait in Riau..

On Sunday, a navy hospital ship began to head to the waters off the province to fetch them on Wednesday (Feb 26), Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said on Monday.

"They will be moved (from the cruise ship) to Dr Suharso hospital ship and observed there in line with the procedures set by the Indonesian military," he said in a statement after meeting President Joko Widodo and Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto.

After the transfer, the hospital ship will head to Sebaru Kecil island, an uninhabited island in Thousand Islands, near Jakarta, where the crew members will be quarantined starting from Feb 28.

"It is a place we consider safe as the island is not inhabited and the facilities are good and ready to use," Dr Muhadjir added.

Dream Cruises, operator of the World Dream, had halted the vessel's operations since Feb 9, following the Covid-19 outbreak, which has infected more than 79,000 people and killed over 2,600 people worldwide since it originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

On that day, thousands of people, who had been held on board the ship for five days, were permitted to disembark, after its 1,800 crew members tested negative for the virus.

Hong Kong authorities decided to quarantine the ship because of concerns over the spread of the deadly virus from the previous voyage. From Jan 19 and 24, it had carried three Chinese passengers to Vietnam and they were later found to be infected by the virus.

Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said after the meeting the government is focusing on evacuating the Indonesian crew members because the ship's position "is the closest to us".

He added: "We are arranging for them to get good quarantine facilities."

Dr Terawan also said the decision to use the hospital ship was prompted by safety concerns as the authorities do not want the crew on land in a bid to maintain Indonesia's "green zone" standing.

The evacuation of the World Dream's crew is Indonesia's second.

The first involved 238 people, including a foreigner, from Wuhan. They were put on a 14-day observation stay in the Natuna Islands from Feb 2 Feb 16. All were declared free of the virus and allowed to return home.

Indonesia, which reports that it has no confirmed cases so far, is also preparing to bring home Indonesians working on another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which is anchored off the Japanese city of Yokohama.

Dr Terawan said the governments of the two countries are still negotiating on the best "attempt, technique and method" to transport the Indonesians.

As of Monday, nine of the 78 Indonesian workers on the ship were found to have the virus, the Health Ministry's director general for disease control and prevention Anung Sugihantono told The Straits Times.

The ship has reported nearly 700 cases of infection, and at least two deaths from the outbreak since it was quarantined on Feb 5. Since Friday, the Japanese authorities have allowed those on board who tested negative for the virus to leave the ship.

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