Rhona Taylor

2020 All At Sea

An installation in response to the safe haven provided to four cruise ships in the Forth during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic


RHONA TAYLOR At the beginning of 2020, the cruise ship industry was hit by a number of Covid-19 outbreaks, and the ships became known as floating petri dishes – hotbeds of Covid transmission among some of the highest-risk people.

On February 20, the World Health Organisation announced that more than half the known cases of Covid-19 in the world outside China were on a single ship: the Diamond Princess.

Five cases were also confirmed on board Braemar, a cruise ship sailing in the Caribbean – operated by the British-based company Fred Olsen, but registered in and flying the flag of The Bahamas. The company also owns the ships Black Watch, Boudicca and Balmoral.

As early as January, countries were starting to refuse entry to cruise ships. In February, Braemar was turned away from a number of Caribbean ports. The Bahamas also refused entry, but eventually allowed the ship to anchor 25 miles off-shore to refuel, get supplies of food and receive medical assistance via helicopter. Passengers and crew were stranded at sea for more than a week.

Eventually, Cuba allowed the ship to dock. British passengers were repatriated in four aircraft sent from the UK, including one provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

By the beginning of April, thousands of passengers were stranded at sea around the world on cruise ships that had been denied entry to ports, and refused entry or support by their nation flag states.

In the middle of March 2020, Forth Ports granted Fred Olsen’s four ships – Braemar, Balmoral, Black Watch and Boudicca – safe haven in the Firth of Forth. The ships sailed to Edinburgh, and sheltered at anchor in the estuary with a skeleton crew on board.

In the middle of April, eight members of the crew on board Black Watch tested positive for Covid-19.

Forth Ports instructed that the ship remain at anchor until the quarantine was complete. At the end of May the four ships moved to Rosyth, where they remain with the company’s two new, recently bought ships, Bolette and Borealis (previously Amsterdam and Rotterdam).

Two cross-channel ferries owned by P&O, the Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Burgundy, were also granted safe haven at the Port of Leith at the beginning of May, and have remained there since.

Images: Rhona Taylor – full project info