With the number of Ukrainians having fled their homeland surpassing nearly four million people and expected to continue to grow, relief organizations and countries across Europe are struggling to provide services and housing for those that have no place to go. With no relief in sight for the humanitarian crisis, there is growing momentum to provide housing and services aboard cruise ships and ferries. Several companies are responding to the call offering vessel to meet the needs.

Carnival Corporation which has a history of working with government agencies to provide relief normally from natural disasters including hurricanes is the latest to step forward offering a cruise ship from its Costa Cruises brand. River cruise company AmaWaterways also offered several of its vessels while officials in Estonia asked for proposals from cruise and ferry operators to provide housing. At the same time, ferry companies are helping to relocate displaced people and transport them to countries willing to provide aid.

Poland has been one of the countries receiving many of the people leaving Ukraine and Polish shipowner Polferries responded by offering free transport to Sweden for Ukrainian citizens and their cars. The company reports that in the first days more than 6,000 refugees had already benefited from this form of aid while the company was also offering free transport of humanitarian aid from Sweden. Company employees also organized a collection of stuffed animals and sweets for children boarding the ferries heading to Sweden. The collected gifts are being distributed on the individual vessels.

Estonian officials explained the attraction of using the ferries and cruise ships, transferring people from hotels. Estonia reports it has taken in over 22,000 people, 40 percent of which are children, and while many are staying with friends about 6,000 are currently in hotels and seeking temporary housing from the state. Jako Salla of The Social Insurance Board explained to ERR News that “large ships have good spacious rooms and conference rooms that can be used as classrooms. We can bring health services and counseling services there. It provides many opportunities, is safe, and ensures easier organization.”

The agency issued a request for bids from shipping companies setting a deadline of March 21 for the tenders. They were looking for ships able to accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 people and expected the people would stay longer term on the ships than in the hotels which did not provide as many facilities. Also, they noted that the hotels had summer reservations for travelers and by moving the Ukrainians to the ships hotel rooms would be available. They hoped to reach an agreement by the end of the week with the news media reporting Tallink and others submitted proposals.

“As immediate support to the needs of the people affected by the impact of the conflict, we have already donated medical supplies and medicines. In addition, we offered the Costa Magica to the Italian government as a potential temporary hub for the reception of Ukrainian refugees should the number of arrivals in Italy increase in the coming weeks as a result of prolonged conflict,” Costa Cruises said in a statement. The company offered to reactivate the cruise ship which has been idle since the beginning of the pandemic, including managing the ship, providing staff and meals, for a period of time to house and processes refugees. To date, Italy reports more than 65,000 Ukrainians have come to the country.

Introduced in 2004, the Costa Magica is a 102,784 gross ton cruise ship. She has 857 outside staterooms plus an additional 500 inside cabins. The normal passenger capacity is approximately 2,700 people, but using extra berths she could accommodate 3,470 people or more. The vessel is currently anchored off La Spezia, Italy, and is a good option for the company to offer as housing. Costa is replacing the ship in its fleet with a newer vessel. Plans called for the cruise ship to be transferred in mid-2022 to Carnival Cruise Line which plans to rebuild her for its fleet.

River cruise company AmaWaterways reported to the TravelMarket Report that it received its first Ukrainian refugees on Monday aboard one of its vessels docked in Amsterdam. The company has two of its riverboats docked alongside each other to provide temporary accommodations and food services for the refugees arriving in the Netherlands.

Multiple travel companies reported that they are also providing various forms of aid and support to the relief efforts. AIDA Cruises for example provided medical supplies from its ships while hotel companies report making rooms available in their properties.

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