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Japan wants International rules on disease outbreaks on cruise ships

  • February 21, 2020
  • , Jiji Press , 9:16 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Feb. 21 (Jiji Press)–Japan will call for ending the lack of clear global rules on who is responsible for dealing with infectious disease outbreaks aboard international cruise ships, officials said Friday.

The coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess “is the first case” in which the responsibility for addressing an infectious disease outbreak on an international cruise ship became a problem, a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

The British-flagged Diamond Princess, hit by a coronavirus outbreak, was put under fresh quarantine by Japanese authorities early this month after the ship arrived at Yokohama, near Tokyo.

“Under international law, there is no established rule on which of the three parties holds prime responsibility–the flag nation of a cruise ship, the ship operator or the coastal state,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference.

“There should be discussions about the appropriate response, after things settle down,” he said.

 International law stipulates that ships are subject to the “exclusive jurisdiction” of the flag countries on the high seas in principle.

 As for the Diamond Princes, Japan can exercise as much sovereignty over the ship as it can over its land because the vessel is docked at a Japanese port.

But there is no clear rule regarding whether the flag nation or the port country is responsible for addressing an infectious disease outbreak on an international cruise ship.

Partly due to the legal problem, Japan allowed the Diamond Princess to make port in the country while rejecting entry by the Netherlands-flagged MS Westerdam cruise ship, where a coronavirus outbreak was suspected.

On the quarantine and other measures conducted on the Diamond Princess, a senior Foreign Ministry official said, “We cooperated and discussed with the flag nation, Britain, to determine how far Japan could go.”

“We took humanitarian measures because the ship had many Japanese passengers,” another official said. “Japan had no obligations. We could have rejected its entry.”

The responsibility problem became even more complex because the Diamond Princess operator is a U.S. company.

“The captain controlled everything on board, while we gave advice,” health minister Katsunobu Kato told the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Thursday.

Kato said he wishes that the ship operator had taken action when a Hong Kong passenger was found infected with the COVID-19 virus on Feb. 1 after his disembarkation.

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