BARCELONA, SPAIN - Passengers on a luxury liner's around-the-world cruise, begun before the globe was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic, are finally approaching the end of their odyssey after 15 weeks at sea.
The ship, the Costa Deliziosa, was heading Sunday toward a port in Spain before ending its journey in Italy — both countries devastated by the coronavirus outbreak.
Costa Crociere, an Italian cruise company, said that the Deliziosa, which set sail from Venice in early January with 1,831 passengers, had no cases of COVID-19 aboard.
The Deliziosa, a nearly 300-meter (1,000-foot) vessel, will disembark 168 Spanish passengers on Monday at Barcelona's port. Then the Deliziosa will head to its final destination, Genoa, Italy, where it is expected to let off the remaining passengers, Italians and those of other nationalities, on Wednesday.
A company spokesman said a passenger left the ship earlier in the week in Marsala, Sicily, for health issues and had a COVID-19 test, which was negative.
Being on the liner for weeks during the pandemic "was not surreal, it was incredible,'' said passenger Carlos Paya', who lives in Valencia, Spain, and is sailing with his wife. He added that they have family members in Spain.
"The news that was arriving from home was causing us all a lot of worry and grief," he told The Associated Press by text message Saturday evening. "For us it was a stroke of good luck to be where we were."
"From Perth [Australia] given the growth of the pandemic, and of course for those of us who have children in Spain, we would have preferred to return," he added. "Other passengers, on the other hand, given their old age, wanted to stay on board knowing that the boat was safe and secure."
French authorities had rebuffed a request by Costa for permission to disembark several hundred passengers from France and nearby countries at Marseilles. "The health situation on board the ships, with 1,814 guests and 898 members of the crew, doesn't present any problem for public health and no case of COVID-19," Costa's statement said.
While people infected with the coronavirus often experience mild or moderate symptoms, possible complications like pneumonia can put their lives at risk.
The Deliziosa was originally due to return to Venice on April 26. After the U.N. World Health Organization pandemic alert in March, the ship, which had just made a port call in Fremantle, western Australia, made only technical and refueling stops, before the journey back toward the Mediterranean, which took it through the Suez Canal, according to the company.
Passenger Jean-Pierre Escarras, from Marseilles, shot a video of their cabin that their daughters shared on social networks, in which he says: "This is our place of confinement. We are lucky to have a window."
The couple said that after a stop in Sydney, the ship's activities were "reduced or sometimes canceled. We haven't been able to get out on land since March 14 — that's 34 days."
The passengers said that ports in Oman, along the Suez Canal, as well as in the Seychelles and Indian Ocean ports, refused to let the ship dock.
The Spanish passenger, Paya' praised the captain and crew.
Costa said the passengers were confined to their cabins only for the period until the ship heard back that the ill guest who got off in Sicily had tested negative. It didn't say how long that period lasted.
The company said, because the ship is Italian-flagged, it followed Italian precautionary measures used in the pandemic, including safety distancing between guests such as managing the numbers of who could enter food areas at any one time, and transmitting entertainment to cabin TV sets.
A French woman whose in-laws are aboard the Costa Deliziosa garnered about 100 signatures on an online petition to urge the French government to intervene to get them home.
But French authorities barred the Deliziosa from disembarking more than 1,000 passengers before its final destination in Italy.
The regional administration for Bouches-du-Rhone in southern France cited a nationwide ban on allowing foreign cruise ships to dock, as part of France's virus-related confinement measures. Italy has also barred foreign cruise ships as it battles the virus outbreak.
The French administration has granted exemptions to six other cruise ships in recent weeks to allow French passengers to get off, but refused this time, saying the previous stops overstretched local police and health authorities already mobilized to fight France's severe virus crisis.
Last month, two other Costa cruise ships pulled into Italian ports, including one that earlier had aboard passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 before being disembarked in France.
It was unclear if or where the passengers who were due to finally step aboard land after weeks of sailing aboard the Deliziosa would be quarantined as a precaution.