The German-owned cruise ship, which was quarantined in Western Australia due to dozens of coronavirus cases, has finally left the country.
The coronavirus-plagued Artania, owned by German cruise company Phoenix Reisen, had seen a fatal outbreak of the disease and a stand-off with the Western Australia authorities after it refused to leave.
The ship moved away from the dock in Fremantle, south of Perth, where it had been moored for the past two weeks, and headed out to sea en route to Germany just after 1 pm (0500 GMT), a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told dpa.
The ship, which plans to make stops in Indonesia and the Philippines to drop off staff, is carrying more than 400 people, mostly crew.
‘Thank you! Fremantle,’ a large sign on the ship said.
`Some of the crew who are expected to return home on a charter flight were removed from the ship on Saturday and transferred to a Perth hotel, according to Western Australia authorities.
The departure will come as a big relief for the state government, who had asked the ship to leave as soon as possible and also requested the federal government to assist in pushing the vessel out to sea.
‘It was very pleasing to see her leave Fremantle port, but I think we'll all breathe a sigh of relief when it leaves Australian waters,’ Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan told reporters in Perth.
A total of 81 crew and passengers from Artania have tested positive for coronavirus and dozens of them are in Perth hospitals, while three people - two crew and one passenger - have died due to the disease.
Some 844 healthy passengers and crew were flown out to Germany late last month in four Condor Airlines flights.
On Saturday, the crew and passengers waved from the ship to large crowds who had gathered to watch them depart at the dock, according to video footage shown on Australian television.
Earlier in the morning, buses ferried passengers and crew members back and forth from the city, with dozens taken from the hotel to Artania, while dozens of others disembarked to fly out of Perth by air.
Before the ship left, two crew members were married on the wharf in Fremantle, just near the Artania's boarding plank, Australian broadcaster ABC reported.
The Artania arrived in Australian waters last month. After days of stalemate, it was allowed earlier this month to stay until Friday by the Australian Border Force, imposing a 14-day-quarantine on the cruise ship and assisting in the ‘deep clean’ of the vessel.
A group of schoolchildren from Perth wrote heartfelt postcards this week to the crew members, wishing them a safe journey home.
‘These pictures and messages have brought a bit of warmth and love into our hearts during this challenging time!’ Morten Hansen, the Artania's captain, said in a Facebook post overnight.
‘Thank you, kids, very much for the nice words and next time we are here we are looking forward to see your charming city.’ Australia has more than 6,550 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 70 fatalities.
According to health authorities, coronavirus cases from cruise ships, including those who have come from abroad, are responsible for more than a quarter of confirmed Covid-19 infections in Australia, as well as about 40 per cent of the death toll.
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