Photo/Illutration Costa Atlantica docked in the Nagasaki shipyard's Koyagi factory operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in Nagasaki on Feb. 23 (Provided by Yusuke Matsuzono)

NAGASAKI--Luxury floating hotels and an eyesore to boot, or ships of dreams?

Amateur photographer and Nagasaki resident Yusuke Matsuzono harbors no doubts that it is the latter.

In his view, the luxury cruise liners that call in at Nagasaki Port for repairs or to take on supplies are not ugly metal superstructures but a source of creative inspiration and international friendship.

So when news broke of a COVID-19 cluster infection aboard the Italian-flagged Costa Atlantica, triggering alarm among residents that the deadly virus might reach the city, 26-year-old Matsuzono rushed to snap photos of the majestic vessel to post on social media sites with messages of encouragement.

The 86,000-ton cruise ship arrived in Nagasaki Port in late January from China and underwent repairs from Feb. 20 in the Nagasaki shipyard's Koyagi factory operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.

On the evening of April 18, Matsuzono went out as usual to take pictures of the docked ship. As soon as he set up his tripod at a city pier on the other side of the port, he sensed something was wrong with the ship.

The Costa Atlantica was not carrying passengers, yet the cabins were lit up that night.

A little later, Matsuzono received a text message from a crew member with whom he was in contact via social networking sites.

“There are people who have fevers,” the text said.

“It can’t be coronavirus, right?” Matsuzono told himself.

Two days later, Nagasaki prefectural and city government authorities announced that a single crew member of the Costa Atlantica had tested positive for the virus.

By April 25, 148 crew members were confirmed with the virus. The 600 or so crew members were isolated and quarantined in the passenger cabins.


Matsuzono grew up in Nagasaki, where around 200 cruise ships make port calls each year.

He started taking photos of them in 2017 while he was still a senior at university.

After graduating, he was assigned to work in Oita Prefecture. But his passion for photographing cruise ships proved so strong, he switched jobs and moved back to Nagasaki.

Matsuzono’s favorite shooting location is the Megami Ohashi suspension bridge at the entrance to Nagasaki Port. Rising 65 meters above the water, it allows large cruise ships to pass with ease.

Sometimes he captures images of a ship with the bridge lit up at night. Other times, he shoots from the span.

He began posting his images in social media, mainly on Instagram, last year.

Before long, he started receiving feedback from foreign crew members aboard the cruise ships and their family members far away.

“It’s a hard job,” one crew member told Matsuzono in a text message. “But looking at the pictures you took, it makes me keep going.”

Sometimes, Matsuzono gets a request like this: “My family member is working on the ship. Can you please send me a photo of the ship?”

After Matsuzono posted that he would be on the bridge to photograph a particular ship arriving or entering the port, crew members came out on the deck to wave at him.

In January, when the new coronavirus took rampant hold on China, many cruise ships suspended passenger operations and began using Nagasaki Port.

Matsuzono was excited to see multiple massive liners docked at the same time, a rare sight.

He was looking forward to enjoying cherry blossom viewing with a crew member whose ship was scheduled to enter Nagasaki in spring.

But that was not to be as the number of Costa Atlantica crew members with COVID-19 rose day by day in April.

Around that time, conflicting reports emerged of dozens of crew members taking port leave in the city even after the outbreak.

The cruise ship quickly became a symbol of the anxiety that gripped Nagasaki's residents.

Matsuzono then started receiving negative messages from Japanese nationals. “Why do you take pictures of the virus-plagued ship?” was a common refrain.

“It’s not their fault they're infected,” a disconsolate Matsuzono told himself.

At that point, crew members stopped sending text messages. Matsuzono assumed they were banned from communicating with people outside the ship.

Still, he wanted to do something for the crew members stranded far from home and living in fear as they fought the virus.

He decided to take more images of the vessel and post them on social media with the hashtag “Ganbare (Hang in there), Costa Atlantica.”

The images on his Instagram page quickly garnered positive comments.

“I wish all crew members go home safely,” one wrote.

Since early May, many crew members who had recovered or were not infected went home, while the ship remained quarantined at the port.

Matsuzono felt saddened by the outcome.

“The way a cruise ship comes and goes, neon-lit with lively music played, that’s what I love about cruise ships. They are so extraordinary,” Matsuzono said. “It's as if they are carrying dreams. It makes me excited.”

All the things Matsuzono loves about cruise ships are no longer to be seen, certainly not while the pandemic rages and operators shun commercial operations.

After all the remaining crew members on board tested negative for the virus, the Costa Atlantica departed Nagasaki on May 31.

Matsuzono went to take a picture of his beloved vessel one last time.

“I said goodbye, wept hysterically,” he wrote in his Instagram post with a photo of Costa Atlantica leaving port.

“My very best wishes for crew members’ health and the ship’s safety,” he wrote. “And I wish Nagasaki will leap back to the festive days with cheerful cruise ships coming in and out.”