March 18, 2020 / 7:53 PM / 10 days ago

UPDATE 1-Coronavirus-hit Italian cruise ship to dock in south of France

* Cruise ship was destined for Venice before virus outbreak

* Passengers may not disembark in Marseille before being tested

* France in national lockdown with 264 coronavirus deaths

* Liner left Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 5

* Two infected passengers disembarked in Puerto Rico

* (Adds green light of Marseille port authority)

By Marc Leras and Geert De Clercq

MARSEILLE, France, March 18 (Reuters) - An Italian cruise ship that earlier in its voyage disembarked two passengers who later tested positive for coronavirus has been authorized to dock in Marseille in the south of France, a port authorities spokesman 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 at Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands on March 15, but police stopped other people from disembarking there, passengers 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 Costa Luminosa is now expected in Marseille, a major Mediterranean port, on Thursday at around 1 p.m. (1200 GMT), a Marseille port spokesman said, but they would not be permitted to disembark before being tested for coronavirus.

France is in its second day of a virtual lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic, with 264 dead so far.

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 (coronavirus)," Martha Bradbury, a 51-year-old Canadian passenger, told Reuters.

There were more than 1,420 passengers on the Costa Luminosa, among whom were 230 Americans, 168 Italians, 100 Canadians and other nationalities, according to the cruise operator.

"All we are thinking about is how we get off this ship," Bradbury said. (Reporting Marc Leras in Marseille, Geert De Clercq in Paris and Angelo Amato in Rome Writing by Geert De Clercq Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)

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