March 18, 2020 / 6:53 PM / 20 days ago

Coronavirus-hit cruise ship hopes to dock in France

* Cruise ship was destined for Venice before virus outbreak

* Ship left Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 5

* Two infected passengers disembarked in Puerto Rico

* French health authorities to decide on possible docking

By Marc Leras and Geert De Clercq

MARSEILLE, France, March 18 (Reuters) - An Italian cruise ship which earlier in its voyage disembarked two passengers who later tested positive for coronavirus hoped to dock in Marseille, France, but was still awaiting approval, port authorities said on Wednesday.

The Costa Luminosa, which left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on March 5 on a cruise destined for Venice, Italy, made a first stop in Puerto Rico, where the two passengers left the ship.

After being blocked from docking in the Caribbean island of Antigua, the ship unloaded four sick travellers in Tenerife on March 15, but armed police stopped other people from disembarking there, passengers on the ship said.

It was not immediately clear whether there were more suspected cases on board. The ship's captain told passengers: "In regards to the passengers who disembarked in Tenerife, we have no further updates on their condition."

The cruise ship is expected in Marseille on Wednesday evening around 2200 CET (2000 GMT) and is due to leave on Thursday at 1900, the Marseille port website showed. France is in virtual lockdown to fight the pandemic.

"We are not blocking the ship from calling here. But the regional health agency and the prefecture will decide whether it can dock and whether passengers will be allowed to disembark," a Marseille port authority spokesman said.

An official at Italy's Costa Cruises, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp, was not able to comment immediately.

On a Costa Luminosa Facebook group, passengers shared their distress about being confined to their cabins, the uncertainty about when they can disembark and the lack of information.

"Physically we are fine, but mentally we are all exhausted. Three days into this trip, it all became about COVID-19," Canadian passenger Martha Bradbury, 51 told Reuters.

Bradbury said the vast majority of the passengers were Italians, with about 230 Americans, 100 Canadians and a few other nationalities on board.

"All we are thinking about is how we get off this ship," Bradbury said. (Reporting Marc Leras in Marseille and Geert De Clercq i Paris; Writing by Geert De Clercq; editing by Richard Lough)

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