Cruise ships have been deployed to help rescue people forced to flee St Vincent after two powerful volcanic eruptions.

A number of neighbouring islands have opened up their borders with at least one Royal Caribbean International ship taking some of the estimated 16,000 evacuees to St Lucia.

Carnival Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises also dispatched vessels to help with the rescue efforts.

Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas, Celebrity Reflection, plus Carnival Legend went sent to assist the evacuation.

However, St Vincent prime minister Ralph Gonsalves confirmed that only those who had been vaccinated against Covid-19 would be allowed on board the ships.

He said: “The chief medical officer would be identifying the persons already vaccinated so that we can get them on the ship.”

The La Soufriere volcano erupted for the first the in 40 years spending a plume of ash cloud 3.7 miles into the sky and causing power cuts across the southern Caribbean island.

Ash fall was reported some 20km away at the island’s Argyle International airport. The airport at Bridgetown, Barbados was one of several in the region forced to close until Sunday due to the ash fall.

A warning to expect further activity at La Soufriere followed what officials described as an “explosive event” on Sunday.

The emergency management organisation Nemo tweeted: “Massive power outage following another explosive event at La Soufriere Volcano. Lightning, thunder and rumblings.”

The Foreign Office said: “During the morning of 9 April 2021, there were several explosive eruptions of La Soufriere and an ash plume 6km high. Argyle International airport was closed until further notice.

“Explosive eruptions could theoretically continue for weeks to come. During this period, British nationals should heed the advice of local authorities.”

Royal Caribbean Group said Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises were both “working closely with St Vincent authorities to assist residents most at risk”.

The company added: “All precautions will be taken to protect the health and safety of the crew and passengers who board our ships.”

Carnival Cruise Line tweeted: “We are awaiting next steps from St Vincent government on evacuation support. Meanwhile, Carnival Legend as trained deck and engine team to help with passenger check-in.”

Celebrity Cruises president and chief executive Lisa Lutoff-Perlo also tweeted to say: “Sent Celebrity Reflection to St Vincent to help with volcano evacuation. Taking all precautions and so grateful we can help the island’s residents.”

The ships are sailing with limited crew due to the Covid-19 pandemic halting sailings.