The most bizarre cruise ship story of the year finally has an ending

Jun 9, 2020

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One of the most bizarre stories in the history of cruising finally has an ending.

Eight cruisers stuck on a German ship, the Artania, since the coronavirus outbreak began exploding around the world in March are finally on dry land.

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The 36-year-old vessel, which is marketed by German cruise seller Phoenix Reisen, finally reached its home port of Bremerhaven, Germany, on Monday, after a weeks-long journey from Australia, and the eight passengers were allowed to disembark.

As can be seen in photos posted by local news outlets, Artania now is tied up along the docks at Bremerhaven.

For weeks, the eight passengers on Artania had been the only cruise passengers still on a ship sailing the world’s oceans.

Artania was in Sydney, Australia in March when ports around the world began shutting down to cruise ships. That’s when what turned into a 12-week-long odyssey to get home began.   

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Initially, Artania was sailing with more than 1,000 passengers on board. But on 15 March, with ports quickly closing, Phoenix Reisen gave the ship’s mostly German customers the opportunity to fly home from Sydney, and 199 took the company up on the offer. That left 832 passengers who decided to stay on board as Artania tried to work its way home to Germany.

It turned out to be a bad decision. On 18 March, Artania left Sydney for Fremantle, Australia (the port for Perth) where it planned to make a quick fuel stop before continuing across the Indian Ocean to Africa, the Suez Canal and Europe. But along the way to Fremantle, passengers began falling ill.

By the time Artania reached Fremantle a week later, seven people on the ship had tested positive for COVID-19, which resulted in the ship being quarantined in the city for two weeks. Testing eventually showed several dozen more with the illness, and they were taken to local hospitals.

Luckily for many of the passengers on board, Australian authorities eventually allowed those who were healthy — around 800 in all — to fly home from Fremantle on chartered aircraft. But not everybody could go, as some who had tested positive for COVID-19 remained in quarantine.

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The ship finally was allowed to depart Fremantle in late April with eight remaining passengers, all of whom either couldn’t or wouldn’t fly. But it didn’t head straight back to Germany. Instead, it detoured to both Bali, Indonesia, and the Philippine capital, Manila, to drop off the majority of its crew members. A large portion of the ship’s crew was from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Only then did Artania begin the long voyage home to Bremerhaven in earnest. Along with the eight passengers, it sailed with a skeleton crew of around 75.

By coincidence, Artania is arriving back in Germany just as a river cruise operator in the country becomes the first in the world to restart operations. The country can thus lay claim to both the last cruise vessel to operate with passengers after cruising worldwide began shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic and the first cruise vessel to begin sailing again with passengers.

Related: 17 destinations that may not welcome ships when cruising resumes 

TPG has been unable to reach any of the eight passengers who remained on board Artania. But, given they were among fewer than 90 people in total on a vessel designed to hold more than 1,700 passengers and crew, we’re sure they had an unusual experience.

More than 750 feet long and 106 feet wide, Artania has eight passenger decks, meaning each of the eight passengers could have had an entire deck to themselves. They also could, in theory, have spread out among dozens of cabins a piece. The ship has nearly 600 cabins.

Princess Cruises fans may recognize Artania. First unveiled in 1984, it originally sailed for many years as the line’s Royal Princess. It was transferred in 2005 to the P&O Cruises fleet, where it sailed under the name Artemis. It joined the Phoenix Reisen fleet in 2011.

The ship is known in cruise circles for having one of the most famous original godmothers of the modern era of cruising: Diana, Princess of Wales.

Feature image by Paul Kane/Getty Images.

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