COVID Cases Disrupt Cruise Operations in Caribbean, U.S. West Coast

Koningsdam (Holland America file image)

Published Dec 26, 2021 9:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the vaccine-resistant Omicron variant spreads, COVID-19 outbreaks are disrupting cruise ship itineraries for departures from American ports. Despite stringent vaccination and testing requirements, small clusters of cases are popping up on cruise ships in the Caribbean and the U.S. West Coast. 

On the Mexican Riviera, the Holland America line cruise ship Koningsdam had to skip a port call in Puerto Vallarta when local officials refused to allow passengers to disembark. 21 members of Koningsdam's crew had reportedly tested positive, and port officials did not want to take the risk that passengers might also have the disease. Koningsdam returned to her home port in San Diego, swiftly disembarked her passengers and left again with a new cohort of guests at about 1600 hours Sunday. 

A spokesperson for the line told local media that there were no confirmed cases of COVID amongst the passengers. All positive employees were quarantined as soon as their test results were known. The identified cases were all "mild or asymptomatic," he said. 

"They sent us a letter to all the passengers saying that they had a mild case of COVID and it was isolated and basically we had nothing to worry about," passenger Rosemary Capuano told OnScene.TV. "They offered us $50 extra to spend on ship and basically said, ‘Keep your mask on, enjoy the rest of your cruise.'"

A sister brand, Carnival Cruise Lines, reported another outbreak Friday aboard Carnival Freedom. It was the third Florida-homeported cruise ship in the span of a week to report COVID cases aboard. 

The outbreak aboard Carnival Freedom included a small number of cases amongst the passengers. Carnival confirmed that the vessel was refused entry at the islands of Aruba and Bonaire because of the positive cases.

Florida-based cruise operations have a particular vulnerability to COVID-19, as the state is currently experiencing record-setting daily case counts. Nearly 33,000 new cases were reported on Christmas Eve, exceeding the Delta wave's daily peak (in August) by more than 5,000.