On Friday, La Soufriere volcano on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent violently erupted, with the government ordering thousands to evacuate their homes.
According to The Associated Press, “Experts said the first explosion shot an ash column 32,000 feet (10 kilometers) into the sky and that the majority of the ash was headed northeast into the Atlantic Ocean. Lightning crackled through the towering column of smoke and ash late Friday.”
“Heavy ashfall was reported in communities around the volcano and beyond, with authorities saying some evacuations were limited by poor visibility,” The Associated Press added.
Hampering the evacuation efforts were reports of flight cancelations, in addition to concerns that further volcano activity could occur.
“The new eruption followed mandatory evacuation orders issued Thursday for the roughly 16,000 people who live in the red zone near the volcano in the island’s northern region. More than 2,000 people were staying in 62 government shelters,” reported The Associated Press.
The Royal Caribbean Group announced that Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises would be sending two ships to the island to assist with “humanitarian efforts.”
“Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises are sending ships to St. Vincent in the Caribbean to evacuate residents currently at risk from a potential eruption of the island’s La Soufriere volcano which has seen increasing activity in recent days,” the corporation stated in a press release. “Both cruise lines are working closely with St. Vincent authorities to assist residents most at risk. Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Reflection are on their way to the island nation and are expected to arrive later this evening to assist with evacuation efforts.”
“All precautions will be taken to protect the health and safety of the crew and passengers who board our ships,” Royal Caribbean Group added.
The island’s Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, then sparked criticism by saying that those boarding cruise ships or seeking temporary refuge on nearby islands must be vaccinated against COVID-19. Those who have not yet been vaccinated — numbering in the thousands — will not be permitted to leave the island, and will be housed in local hotels in “safe zones,” according to the Prime Minister.
“Gonsalves said only vaccinated residents who have been checked and identified by Dr. Simone Keizer-Beache, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines chief medical officer, will be allowed to board the ships out of an abundance of caution,” reported ABC News.
In an interview on NBC Radio St. Vincent, the Prime Minister said that this decision was driven by the countries willing to accept evacuees and their refusal to allow unvaccinated citizens to enter.
According to the Washington Examiner, a spokesman for Carnival Cruises — who have sent “two ships, the Carnival Legend and the Carnival Paradise, which will each take 1,500 passengers to neighboring islands” — said that the company “has not made vaccines a requirement of this humanitarian mission.”