Violent protests meet cruise ship full of Aussies, Kiwis


A cruise ship full of Australians and New Zealanders has been refused entry to two countries and met by violent protests at a third over fears the coronavirus could be on-board the ship.

New Zealander Rod Pascoe, 67, is travelling on the Sun Princess with his wife on the seven-week Indian Ocean Odyssey.

They were among more than 2000 people on the ship when it docked at Réunion Island, a French territory off the coast of Africa on the weekend, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Despite there being no cases of coronavirus on-board, the first shuttle buses of passengers were met by protesters from the island who threw rocks and screamed abuse as they arrived in the Pointe des Gallets port on Sunday morning, Mr Pascoe said.

The protesters had barred the main port gates. Despite police being present, Captain Diego Perra ordered the passengers back aboard the ship to escape the danger.

"Some passengers were very distressed and others absolutely steaming, fuming when they got back," said Mr Pascoe, who had been waiting for a bus when the violence erupted.

"People feared for their safety."

French media have reported about 30 protesters met the buses to call for more stringent health checks for those arriving from the ship.

Protesters threw bottles and stones while police responded with tear gas, according to Imaz Press Réunion, a local newspaper.

Rod Pascoe, 67 with his wife Julie Brockway on a Réunion Island beach after they managed to avoid the protests.
Rod Pascoe, 67 with his wife Julie Brockway on a Réunion Island beach after they managed to avoid the protests.

Video from the scene also shows fires lit on the side of the road. One protester was reportedly arrested.

Only the main gates were affected so passengers managed to make it onto the island through another gate, Mr Pascoe said. When he visited the markets most locals did not seem concerned about the virus.

There have been no reported cases of coronavirus on Réunion Island, which has a population of just under 900,000.

A local folklore group that had been booked as the ship's main theatre group for Sunday night also didn't show, Mr Pascoe said.

"They made no contact with the Sun Princess entertainment team - no warning at all. They just failed to arrive," he said.

Mr Pascoe said there were no coronavirus cases on the ship and no special precautions such as masks were in use.

Local authorities told the ship passengers' safety could not be guaranteed, so instead of staying overnight at Réunion Island the captain planned to head for their next stop, the nearby Republic of Mauritius.

The Sun Princess. Picture: John Montesi/The Australian
The Sun Princess. Picture: John Montesi/The Australian

But overnight that government has also withdrawn permission for the ship to visit there.

It's the second place they have been refused entry after Madagascar's government turned the ship away in mid-February after it had been to Thailand less than 14 days earlier.

Mr Pascoe said he understood that decision as coronavirus had been confirmed in Thailand at that point, and they were within the quarantine period.

"But that's a long time ago, 30 days (that we were in Thailand). Why Mauritius has behaved like this is beyond us," he said.

The Sun Princess left Fremantle in Western Australia on January 20 and has visited Singapore, Thailand, the Seychelles, Zanzibar in Tanzania, Madagascar, four ports in South Africa and Réunion.

It now faces an eight-day journey back to Fremantle where it is due to arrive on March 10.

Shuttle bus fees had been refunded, Mr Pascoe said. He suspected Princess Cruises would offer passengers discounts on later cruises for their trouble.

He was saddened to hear a case had arrived in New Zealand.

"It's just unfortunate - when we left Australia this global fear hadn't been really developed," he said.

"It's completely overshadowed the whole journey."

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and was reproduced with permission

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