Cruise ships which have been empty of passengers since last year's no-sail order are being used to evacuate residents of St Vincent, threatened by an active volcano.
However, the Caribbean island has been told this route of escape is only open to evacuees who have had a Covid 19 vaccine.
People on the Island of St Vincent were told to evacuate following increased volcanic activity and the ultimate eruption of La Soufriere on Friday, 9 April.
Ships from cruise lines Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises were dispatched to the island last week, in an effort to provide temporary refuge and transport to neighbouring islands.
The Carnival Paradise and Carnival Legend arrived on Friday, with a combined capacity of 3000 passengers. Two further ships arrived over the weekend, the Serenade of the seas and the Celebrity Reflection, to aid evacuation efforts.
Four days of continuous violent eruption has seen La Soufriere cover the island in ash, and caused water shortages and destruction to infrastructure.
"Anybody who has not heeded the evacuation needs to get out immediately," Erouscilla Joseph, the University of the West Indies' seismic research centre director told the Guardian. Yesterday, the centre recorded the largest and most destructive explosion for over 40 years, which wiped out forest and "everything in its path" on the volcano's south-west side.
However, boarding cruise ships in the era of coronavirus is not a simple process. New Covid protocols and travel restrictions between Caribbean islands have hampered the evacuation process.
On Saturday the St Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves said that this route for evacuation would only be open to vaccinated citizens.
"The chief medical officer would be identifying the persons already vaccinated so that we can get them on the ship" Gonsalves told the press conference.
"The ships don't have enough personnel to keep passengers on the ships," he warned, but they will be able to transport people to neighbouring islands. However, some of these destinations require arrivals to have proof of Covid 19 vaccination.
Less than 6 per cent of the population have been vaccinated, according to Reuters.
The islands of St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Antigua have volunteered to re-house evacuees temporarily. However the pandemic has limited the space in shelters and ability to rapidly transport a large number of evacuees.
Around 16000 citizens live within the highest risk area or "zone of expected total destruction".
On Sunday, Carnival Cruises said it was ready to start the uplift of passengers. The public relations account tweeted photos from the Carnival Legend, saying "We are awaiting next steps from St. Vincent government on evacuation support."
Visibly upset at the press conference, Gonsalves praised the efforts of neighbouring islands to shelter to evacuees. As the largest eruption since 1979, it is feared that the volcano could stop people returning home for up to four months, he told Reuters.
"I must tell you the way in which people in St Vincent and the Grenadines – ordinary people – […] have responded to put people in their homes, brings tears to my eyes. I love this Caribbean"