Barcelona --- After five weeks without setting foot on land due to coronavirus restrictions, 168 passengers from a luxury Italian cruise ship disembarked in Barcelona on Monday, ending a highly unusual world trip.
Since the luxury liner set sail on January 5 from the northern Italian city of Venice on a round-the-world tour, not a single case of coronavirus has been found on board.
With some 1,800 passengers, the 12-deck Costa Deliziosa docked early Monday to allow Spanish passengers to disembark on its penultimate stop before heading back to Italy.
The 300-metre ship entered port after receiving the green light from Madrid, just days after French officials refused to let it disembark some 460 passengers at the southern port of Marseille.
"The boat has arrived. All the Spanish nationals have disembarked and are on their way home," said a spokesperson for vessel owner Costa Cruises.
Those authorised to leave disembarked in small groups and were bussed to the city centre, said an AFP correspondent who witnessed the vessel's arrival.
In a statement, the Spanish government representative in Barcelona said other European passengers had been offered the opportunity to leave with "other means of transport made available for them to reach their home countries".
Among them was a French pensioner who said he had been advised to disembark in Barcelona.
"They told us that the French government had suggested we disembark here and that they would transport us to (the southern French city of) Montpellier," Patrick Contini, 70, told AFP.
"It's a relief. If we'd had to go to Genoa, it would have been a lot harder to get home," said Contini, who lives in an area close to the Spanish border.
The Costa Deliziosa is now heading for the northern Italian port of Genoa where it will dock on April 22 and where all remaining passengers and the nearly 900 crew members will disembark, a Costa statement said.
The cruise liner's world tour was thrown into disarray by the coronavirus crisis which has seen multiple nations shuttering ports and closing borders in a bid to slow the spread of the deadly virus.
At the end of February, Costa cancelled all of the ship's planned stopovers in Asia.
The last time anyone was allowed to disembark was on March 14 when the ship was in Australia, but since then no-one has set foot on land although the vessel has made a number of technical stops.