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Japan to seek int'l rules on states' response to infection-hit ships

This photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter shows the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship leaving Yokohama Port, near Tokyo, on March 25, 2020, after quarantine and disinfection. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan is seeking to propose the establishment of international rules in response to infection-hit cruise ships, after its dealing with the U.S.-operated, British-flagged ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February shed light on new legal issues, officials said Monday.

    Japan took care of the around 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the ship Diamond Princess, including conducting coronavirus testing and treating them, although there were no uniform international laws on what roles each related country should assume when nationalities of the ship and the operator as well as the country where the ship stopped at, differ, they said.

    The Foreign Ministry has requested some 40 million yen ($379,000) in the budget for fiscal 2021 starting next April for research into clarifying state liabilities in dealing with infection-hit cruise ships involving multiple countries, they said.

    It will also use 60 million yen in the fiscal 2020 extra budget to consign some of the research to a think tank, aiming to make proposals on international rules in fiscal 2022, they said.

    "It is necessary to establish systems on international cooperation and divisions of roles (between related countries) to prevent infections on cruise ships from expanding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference.

    On the Diamond Princess, the number of infections ultimately expanded to around 700, with the government coming under fire for failing to take sufficient steps.

    In April, the Italian cruise ship Costa Atlantica was also hit by group coronavirus infections while docked in Nagasaki Prefecture in southwestern Japan for repairs.

    With 149 out of 623 crew members aboard the Italian vessel infected, the situation stoked concerns that the need for treatment would strain local hospitals.

    The Foreign Ministry will also study compilation of international rules to ensure stable supplies of face masks and other medical items and equipment, they said.

    After the coronavirus pandemic took hold, many countries and regions placed restrictions on exporting goods such as drugs, face masks and ventilators, disrupting supplies.

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