Uncertainties of COVID-19 and Testing Blamed for End of Alaska Cruise

uncertainties of COVID-19 and testing ended cruise
Wilderness Adventurer - courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

Published Aug 14, 2020 8:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

It appears the uncertainties over COVID-19 and the testing regimens, in the end, were responsible for UnCruise Adventures' highly-publicized misadventure that saw the first and only attempt to restore cruising in America end just days after it began. The company has won praise for its response to the virus while they highlighted that they had been successful in managing the uncertainties and ensuring that there was no transmission of the coronavirus on their ship. 

At the beginning of the month, just four days into its first cruise, the line’s Wilderness Adventurer abruptly canceled its cruise, instituted its Covid contingency plan, and brought its 36 passengers back to Juneau, Alaska to begin a virus-related quarantine. The series of events was triggered when one of the passengers was told that they had tested positive for the virus at the airport in Alaska. Under the company and state’s protocols, passengers had to test before departing for Alaska and were retested on their arrival in the state. That passenger reportedly tested positive on the second test but only learned days later in the middle of the cruise.

With the attention of international media following their every move, and coming amid the Hurtigruten COVID-19 incident in Norway, UnCruise announced they had canceled the cruise and their attempt to resume North American cruising. Yesterday, UnCruise owner and CEO Captain Dan Blanchard provided an update on the events that followed.

After the passenger notified the captain, the ship immediately asked everyone to self-isolate while they returned to Juneau. That same day, the passenger along with their four traveling companions were retested and the following day all of the passengers were moved to a hotel for a quarantine while the crew remained in isolation on the ship. UnCruise working with Alaska arranged for everyone to again be tested.

In the end, everyone received a negative test. After just two days in the hotel, Alaska greenlighted 30 of the 36 passengers to be released and the following day passengers started traveling home. However, out of an abundance of caution, the passenger who tested positive once and negative twice was asked to complete their isolation along with the traveling companions.

Many people have tried to term the positive test as a false positive for the one passenger. Captain Blanchard however refused to say that instead responding that the science needs to be respected while doctors reviewing the situation said it was still possible that the individual was asymptomatic at the airport but positive and the way the virus runs that they were negative four days later.

The events around the testing and the uncertainties yet again underline the challenges faced by the cruise industry or the broader travel and tourism sector to resume operations. Several other cruise lines announcing their plans to resume operations have also sought to ensure potential customers saying that they would be conducting testing. The president of Royal Caribbean International was even quoted this week as saying it increasingly appeared that rapid testing would become an element of the industry's near-term health protocols.

Blanchard's message was that the protocols established worked. The company managed a difficult situation and no transmission of the virus resulted due to their careful planning. Unfortunately, no one will ever know if it was the testing or the virus that sunk the efforts to relaunch cruising in North America for the time being. UnCruise confirmed that the Wilderness Adventurer is on her way back to lay-up in Seattle.