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COVID-19 Cases Rise on One Cruise Ship While Others Test Negative

Cruise industry works to manage latest COVID-19 incidents
Hurtigruten's Spitsbergen expedition cruise ship - courtesy of Hurtigruten

By Allan E. Jordan 08-06-2020 10:28:44

The cruise industry is continuing to respond to and learn from the recent COVID-19 incidents. While the number of the cases associated with one cruise ship is continuing to rise, some of the alarm has subsided as three other ships reported that their passengers and crew tested negative for the virus.

The most difficult situation remains Hurtigruten's expedition cruise ship the Roald Amundsen, which also caused the current alarm in the cruise industry. According to the Norwegian health authorities, the total number of positive tests has risen to 62 among the crew and passengers on the two Arctic cruises. The first report of just four crew members later rose to 36 and now the Norwegian health authorities have retested the crew with the positive count rising to 41. Four crew members were initially hospitalized, and while two were released the Norwegian media is reporting that two additional crew members have now been hospitalized. Currently, 112 crew members have tested negative, but all the crew is quarantined aboard the ship. Additionally, the Norwegian health authorities are continuing to monitor and expect to retest and find additional positive cases as the incubation period continues.

Nearly 400 cruise passengers might have been exposed to the virus including the passengers on the first cruise when the initial case was likely aboard the ship and all those on the second cruise with the crew that had been exposed. Currently, a total of 21 passengers have tested positive. The incubation period for the first 200 passengers is expiring, but all of the passengers were told to self-isolate and the Norwegian health authorities are recommending testing and retesting to be certain.

The accusations are continuing to circulate in Norway about possible delays in informing passengers or even conscious efforts to obscure the details. The Norwegian media is reporting that the police are investigating whether Hurtigruten violated Norway’s Infection Control Act and the local authorities in Tromso, Norway, where the ship is docked, decided to take over medical responsibility for the crew as the number of infections continued to grow on the ship.

For its part, Hurtigruten admitted mistakes and failures to follow its established protocols. The company’s CEO apologized and they retained DNV GL to conduct an external review of the actions and mistakes made by the company, its employees, and its crew. Norwegian authorities however have expressed a feeling of betrayal by the company that had worked to win their confidence and promised strict protocols to gain approval to begin its expedition cruises. Passengers aboard the ships however have been posting to social media saying that they felt the rules were being observed aboard the ship and that they felt safe during their cruise.

While the efforts continue to control the outbreak and investigate the failures with the Roald Amundsen, the cruise industry has had more positive outcomes with several other ships which also feared outbreaks. Hurtigruten’s Spitsbergen expedition cruise ship arrived in Tromso on August 6 and all of the passengers and crew have tested negative for the virus. Everyone was being held aboard the ship pending the outcome of the tests.

Hurtigruten’s third expedition cruise ship the Fridtjof Nansen continues en route to Germany where the cruise will end. Testing kits were put aboard the ship and Hurtigruten is reported that all of the 162 crew members tested negative for the coronavirus. In addition, 168 passengers tested negative, but three passengers declined the test, and as such Hurtigruten asked them to continue to self-isolate in their cabins until the ship reaches Germany.

In a similar situation, Sea Dream Yacht Club also reported that all passengers and crew aboard its Sea Dream I have tested negative for COVID-19. Sea Dream had curtailed its current cruise when it was informed that a passenger who had disembarked the ship tested positive for the virus days later when they arrived in Denmark. Sea Dream is highlighting its comprehensive infection control measures while thanking its crew and passengers for their understanding.

There have been no further updates from the one incident in North America. UnCruise Adventures reported that one of the 36 passengers aboard its cruise ship the Wilderness Adventurer learned during the cruise that they had tested positive for the virus arriving in Alaska. The ship ended its first Alaska cruise returning to port where the passengers and 30 crew members were quarantined.

While these outbreaks gained a lot of attention and placed the cruise industry under new scrutiny some believe that they will not hurt the restart of cruising. Speaking on his quarterly conference call to investors, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ president and chief executive officer Frank del Rio said, “there's no way to spin the initial reemergence of COVID onboard vessels. But ... it's an opportunity to learn from them. This virus teaches us something every day. And so while it's disappointing, I'm glad that the ports that the cruise company that suffered these setbacks have handled the situation very, very well. We haven't had a repeat of what happened earlier during the pandemic crisis.”

Norway, however, announced that it was again placing an initial 14-day moratorium on cruise ships with more than 100 passengers from entering its ports while it investigates the outbreaks. Hurtigruten canceled its expedition cruises and UnCruise also announced that after just one cruise it was canceling the remainder of its Alaska cruises. Also, while several cruise lines remain hopeful that the Italian authorities would grant permission to resume cruising in Europe, AIDA Cruises was forced to cancel its first planned cruises because Italy as its flag state did not grant permission.

Del Rio predicted in his presentation that while cruising might resume late in 2020 it would be the first quarter of 2021 before capacity grew. “Based on this timeline, it isn't until at least the second quarter of 2021 that we would see our fleet return in earnest.”

It is uncertain how the individual cruise lines will proceed based on these recent outbreaks while experts continue to debate the timing for cruising to resume.