In this Monday, June 15, 2020, photo, the cruise ship Oceania Riviera is tied up in Eastport, Maine. Credit: Chris Gardner / Port of Eastport

The cruise ship Riviera, which arrived in Eastport last month without any passengers so it could wait out the COVID pandemic while tied up to the city’s pier, is expected to leave Eastport this weekend and head to Europe.

The 785-foot ship arrived in Eastport on June 14 with only a small crew and has been waiting there for word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on when the industry can resume carrying passengers. The CDC issued a no-sail order for the industry in mid-March — and has extended it to run through the end of September — banning cruise ships from carrying paid passengers because of concerns about how the disease spread on the ships in the early part of the year.

Oceania Cruises, which owns and operates Riviera, won’t say why it is leaving, but according to a local official, the ship is sailing to Europe so it can switch out the crew members who live on and maintain the ship.

Without going into detail, Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority, said cruise ships face more coronavirus-related restrictions in the U.S. than they do in Europe, and that it will be easier for the cruise company to fly the Riviera’s current crew back to their respective home countries from Europe than it is to do from here.

According to information posted on the U.S. CDC website, which was updated Wednesday, cruise companies cannot fly their crews home from the United States on commercial airlines unless they meet certain criteria, such as having a CDC-approved response plan if a crew member tests positive and having no confirmed cases of COVID-19 or any coronavirus-like illness among crew members for 28 days. Replacement crew members must come from vessels that have had no coronavirus cases for 28 days, or they must have quarantined for 14 days before boarding the cruise ship.

A list of specific ships on the CDC website says the Riviera’s compliance status is “provisionally green,” meaning commercial travel for its crew currently is not permitted.

Contacted Wednesday, a company spokeswoman declined to comment on the CDC restrictions or to say why Oceania has decided to move the ship to Europe.

The company and the ship’s crew “are extremely grateful for the support that local and state authorities have provided in granting the Riviera safe harbor,” said Shayna Alston, the Oceania Cruises spokesperson. “We have been tremendously moved by the outpouring of goodwill from the residents of Eastport and the generosity of spirit they have shown. We look forward to the day that our ships can return to Eastport to share this wonderful place with all of our guests and crew.”

Gardner said Wednesday that the ship’s presence in Eastport, during which it was tied up to the city’s pier for approximately 40 days, went “extremely well.” Crew members stayed on the ship and had no physical contact with local residents or officials to help ensure that there was no possible transmission of COVID-19 between the ship and the community, even though there were no positive tests recorded in Eastport on or off the ship, he said.

Gardner said all docking revenues from hosting the Riviera — which at $2 per foot per day should amount to approximately $70,000 — will go toward paying off debt service on the loan Eastport received to rebuild the pier after it partially collapsed in 2014.

The port authority director said he is sorry to see the Riviera leave, though he added that the port authority still is in discussions with Norwegian Cruise Lines about hosting one of its idled ships while the CDC no-sail order remains in effect.

“The overwhelming community response has been a positive one,” Gardner said of hosting the Riviera.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....