Three Costa Cruise seafarers tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Italian press today. In the last two weeks, over four dozen other crew members employed by AIDA, TUI and Hurtigruten have tested positive.

Costa Favolosa and Costa Deliziosa Crew Members Test Positive

Two of the three Filipino Costa crew members who tested positive were from the Costa Favolosa (above). The Italian newspaper reports that the rest of the crew are now under quarantine. The other Costa crew member who tested positive was on the Costa Deliziosa (right). He also recently arrived from the Philippines and was already under mandatory isolation when he joined the ship.

The regional councilor for Health of Lazio, Alessio D’Amato, was quoted in an Italian newspaper saying: “At the Port of Civitavecchia two cruise ships were placed in isolation which were rearming the crews in view of the reopening of the cruises.”

All threee crew members reportedly were transferred to Spallanzani Hospital in Rome.

Both ships are in Civitavecchia, Italy. Until recently, the crew could go ashore two hours every day according to the newspaper.  Now Costa is prohibiting the employees from leaving the ships until all staff are checked.

Costa acknowledged its “constant application of health protocols” which discovered the “3 positive swab cases.

Thirty-Six Crew Members and One Guest (So Far) Test Positive on the Hurtigruten Expedition Cruise Ship MS Roald Amundsen

This news follows reports from Norway this weekend that crew members on the Hurtigruten expedition cruise ship, the MS Roald Amundsen (left), tested positive for COVID-19. We reported that on Friday the ship arrived in Tromsø, Norway. Hurtigruten permitted as many as 177 of its guests to leave the ship and mingle ashore without telling anyone that several crew members (initially reported as two to four employees) tested positive.

Subsequent reports indicated that Hurtigruten knew that a guest had also tested positive on Wednesday yet the company did not inform the other passengers and permitted them to go ashore on Friday. Subsequent testing of the crew of around 160 employees showed that several dozens other crew member tested positive.

At last count, a total of 36 crew members tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, 60 guests were quarantined and tested and the remaining number of guests (over 160) are in the process of being contacted, tested and traced. Guests from the prior cruise (over 200) are also reportedly being contacted and tested. It remains to be seen how many other guests may have been infected on this ship.

Today, Reuters reports that “so far, four of the combined 387 passengers travelling on the ship on two separate cruises since July 17 have been found to carry the virus, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) and the Tromsoe municipality said.” It is less than clear whether the total of four guests with COVID-19 includes the passenger who tested positive last Wednesday. “We expect that more infections will be found in connection to this outbreak,” said Line Vold, a senior FHI executive, to Reuters.

AIDA Cruises and TUI Group’s Mein Schiff Employees Test Positive

Meanwhile, ten crew members employed by AIDA Cruises which is preparing to resume cruising recently tested positive. The TUI Group, which manages operations of the Mein Schiff fleet of cruise ships, admitted that at least five crew members tested positive for COVID-19 after cancelling a cruise on the Mein Schiff 1 (right).  We initially reported this news on July 21st but TUI did not respond to requests for information until over a week later.

The Total So Far: 54 Crew Members and At Least 4 Guests Test Positive

Between TUI, AIDA, Hurtigruten, and now Costa, at least fifty-four (54) crew members employed by European cruise lines which have started sailing, or are preparing to shortly re-start cruise operations, have tested positive for COVID-19. This number will likely increase once the test results of the hundreds of passengers on the Hurtigruten ship become public.

These companies are following the so-called “European Union” (EU) protocols, which call for social distancing, the wearing of masks, daily temperature tests, and reduced occupancy of the ships, among other measures. But the EU protocols, which were largely drafted by members of the “Healthy Sail” panel selected and paid for by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), do not require COVID-19 testing of cruise passengers.

The Miami-based cruise lines like Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and NCL are testing how the European companies deal with the coronavirus pandemic before they try and resume cruising.  Carnival Coporation owns the ADIA and Costa brands; Royal Caribbean has a 50/50 ownership with the TUI Group in the Mein Schiff fleet. So far, the re-start of cruise operations in Europe has been an inauspicious although entirely predictable result of cruising during a pendemic with no vaccine. These developments paint a bleak future for resuming cruises in the United States where cases of COVID-19 are much higher than in Europe.

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Photo credits: Costa Favolosa – Andrsvoss – CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia; Costa Deliziosoa – Geiranger, Norway  Jorge Andrade from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – CC BY 2.0, commons / wikimedia; MS Roald Amundsen – Hurtigruten; Mein Schiff 1 – Dickelbers – SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.

Crew members who are employed aboard a Hurtigruten ship tested positive today for COVID-19, according to several newspapers in Norway. Nordlys reports that the crew members work on the Hurtigruten expedition cruise ship, the MS Roald Amundsen, which reportedly recently sailed to Svalbard with around 200 passengers. The Hurtigruten ship is currently located at the dock in Tromsø, Norway after arriving in port this morning. It permiited all of its passengers to do ashore, apparently without notifying anyone that its crew members were infected with COVID-19.

Nordlys states that two employees tested positive. NRK reports in an update that there are three crew members who tested positive.

At least two of the ship employees are now hospitalized at the University Hospital in northern Norway, after being isolated several days ago due to another illness. Hurtigruten claims that the COVID-19 testing was part of “routine” testing of its crew members. It denies that these crew members showed symptoms of COVID-19. Hurtigruten has not disclosed the nature of the illnesses to the public.

Hurtigurten states that all 160 crew members on board will be tested.

The company did not disclose whether these crew members were previously tested, either while at home or immediately before they joined the ship or after boarding the ship. The company did not release any details of the employees’ work or whether they came into regular contact with guests who were previously on the ship.

The University Hospital of Northern Norway (UNN) released a press release indicating that the two hospitalized crew members are “foreign nationals.”

Hurtigruten cancelled the cruise that was schedule to sail today to Svalbard which was scheduled to arrive in Longyearbyen on August 4th. The company also said that it contacted “all guests who were on board the ship’s last voyages to give them information and pass on the authorities’ advice.”

Nordyls wrote: “When “Roald Amundsen” docked in Tromsø on Friday morning, the corona alarm had already gone off. Nevertheless, Hurtigruten manages to release the 200 cruise passengers who had been on board the ship for a whole week, ashore.  In Tromsø, they could walk around freely, go to a café, get in a taxi or on a bus, or on a plane, to get home. Without knowing that they might be infected by the dangerous and, in the worst case, deadly virus. Passengers Nordlys has spoken to say that they did not know anything about the coronavirus on board until they read about it in the newspaper.'”

This dreadful news follows ten AIDA crew members testing positive last week. Today, the Norwegian newspaper VG News reports that AIDA cruises ships, which were planned to call at Stavanger at the end of August, will not be not allowed to disembark  passengers ashore.  TUI Group which manages operations of the Mein Schif fleet of cruise ships admitted that at least five crew members tested positive for COVID-19.  We initially reported this news on July 21st but TUI did not respond to requests for information until over a week later. It appears that neither Hurtigruten nor the AIDA or Mein Schiff companies require or provide COVID-19 testing of their guests. As we have written before, without such testing of the passengers, the new screening protocols of the European cruise lines are likely to fail.

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Update: Norway’s largest newspaper writes that the hospital “UNN wrote on Twitter that four employees with foreign citizenship at Hurtigruten had been admitted to hospital with a proven covid-19. Dagbladet reports that 337 people have been quarantined. 177 are passengers and 160 are crew members.”

Major Update: VG newspaper reports Hurtigruten was notified of passengers with infection after the previous trip – thought there was no cause for concern. Outrageous.

August 1, 2020 Update: The Norwegian press is reporting that “33 of 158 crew members (29 new positive cases + 4 original cases = 33) on Hurtigruten’s expedition ship MS Roald Amundsen have tested positive for corona infection…” No word yet regarding the test results for the guests of around 177 people who were disembarked at the port in Norway (60 people in quarantine at port). To be continued.

Photo credits: Ambulance in Tromsø, Norway – Herman Henriksen via Nordlys; the MS Roald Amundsen – Hurtigruten.

Today, TUI Cruises, which operates the Mein Schiff fleet of cruise ships, announced that five crew members hired to work aboard the Mein Schiff 1 (photo below) tested positive for COVID-19. The German cruise blog called Kreuzfahrt-Aktuelles (cruise news) published the news. The majority of travel publications and cruise blogs are currently reporting with great fanfare on the cruise recently taken by another ship in the Mein Schiff fleet, the Mein Schiff 2, which recently returned from a three day cruise from Hamburg with 1,200 guests.

TUI stated that according to what it calls its “strict processes . . . five crew members of Mein Schiff 1 tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently in a facility on land rented by TUI Cruises . . . ”

TUI previously stated that it cancelled the first trip from Kiel, Germany because it was unable to fill certain positions on the start team of Mein Schiff 1 in “good time due to global travel restrictions.” On July 21st we reported that the true reason for the cancellation of the July 31 Mein Schiff 1 cruise was that crew members tested positive for COVID-19. Mein Schiff 1 had already completed its crew manning for this ship by this time. Those who tested positive were all newly joined crew members. Several Mein Schiff ship employees informed us that as many as seven crew members tested positive for COVID-19. TUI refused to respond to our inquiries whether it cancelled the re-start cruise for the Mein Schiff 1 due to its crew members testing positive for the contagious virus.

TUI is now finally acknowledging our report that testing of it crew revealed that many were infected with the virus, although it is now admitting that five, rather than seven, crew members tested positive.

TUI responded to the bad news by claiming that the positive tests for the crew members “proves that the processes introduced are working.” This is the same spin that AIDA Cruises gave to the fact that ten crew members tested positive for COVID-19, as we reported last week. But it tends to prove that it is important for cruise lines to perform tests of its guests, as well as its crew, before they board the ships.

This means that between the two German brands now either cruising or preparing to sail next month (August) from Germany, there have been at least fifteen (15) crew members who tested positive for COVID-19.

We recently published our article titled Without COVID-19 Testing, New Protocols for German Cruise Lines Are Doomed to Fail. The Mein Schiff 1 was supposed to be one of the test cruise ships for Royal Caribbean which has a 50:50 joint venture with TUI of Germany which manages the Mein Schiff ships. The AIDA ships will be test cruises for the Carnival Corporation brands.

It is irrational for cruise lines not to test guests for the virus when over two dozen crew members on the Mein Schiff and AIDA ships have tested positive. Without testing, there is a statistical certainty that there will be a handful of asymptomatic guests infected with COVID-19 who are not screened out by the pre-boarding temperature checks. It is entirely predictable that the guests will then infect other guests and crew members, irrespective of health protocols which may be in place.

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Photo credits: Mein Schiff 1 – Dickelbers – SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.

Two German cruise lines, that were intended to be prototypes for the reopening of U.S. based Carnival Corporation and its rival Royal Caribbean Cruises, have encountered controversy.  Sources have reported that crew members employed by both AIDA Cruises and Mein Schiff, operated by TUI Cruises, tested positive for COVID-19 upon reporting for duty.

Ten AIDA Cruises Crew Members Tested Positive for COVID-19

Last week, ten crew members employed by Carnival Corporation’s German subsidiary, AIDA Cruises, tested positive for COVID-19, according to the German media. The crew members had reportedly tested negative for the virus back in their home countries at some point. But after arriving in Germany earlier last week, they retested positive.

“Ten tests were positive and nine people are symptom-free, one has mild symptoms” according to reports from Germany. The infected crew members were placed in quarantine on one of the AIDA cruise ships and are scheduled to be re-tested today (Sunday). AIDA’s AIDAblu and ADIAmar are expected to restart cruises in August.

AIDA placed a positive spin on the news, announcing that its infected crew members were discovered as a result of its “strict hygiene protocols” which AIDA called the “right preventive measures.” You can read AIDA’s new health protocols on its website under a section which it calls “Certainly the Best Vacation – Safety & Hygiene at AIDA.”

Mein Schiff 1 – Did its Crew Also Test Positive for COVID-19?

Another major German cruise line, Mein Schiff, was intending to sail one of its ships, the Mein Schiff 1, on a cruise from Germany on July 31, but suspended the cruise last week. This was supposed to be one of the test cruises for Royal Caribbean which has a 50:50 joint venture with TUI of Germany which manages the Mein Schiff ships. Royal Caribbean recently touted that it assembled a new group of experts called the “Healthy Sail Panel” to advise it about new policies and protocols to attempt to make cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic safe.

Mein Schiff claimed that it cancelled the cruise because it was unable to fill a re-start team in time for the cruise. However, according to Mein Schiff crew members who we communicated with, the real reason for the cancellation was that seven crew members reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

Cruise Law News requested an explanation from the cruise line but has received no response. A German website, Der Kreuzfahrttester, also made similar inquiries after it published an article titled Blue cruise of the Mein Schiff 1 canceled! What’s the real reason?

Mein Schiff’s 10 Point Health Plan states that “all crew members submitted a negative COVID-19 test before arrival on board,” but there is no such requirement for guests. Like the AIDA protocols, there will be daily temperature checks, including of the guests, but this will not lead to the disagnosis of a asymptomatic traveler.

TUI / Mein Schiff – Full Speed Ahead?

Meanwhile the TUI controlled Mein Schiff seems to be committed to resume cruising. The Mein Schiff 1 is now scheduled to sail, on its first cruise after the pandemic started, on August 3rd. And the German newspaper Deutsche Well reported that last Friday the Mein Schiff 2 sailed from Hamburg on a three-day round trip in the North Sea with around 1,200 passengers, compared to its usual capacity of 2,900. The company had earlier said that the ship would sail at 60% capacity (1,740). Cruise passengers are spending this weekend at sea with no port stops before returning to Germany on Monday.

Deutche Welle reported that “passengers will be required to observe strict physical distancing and hygiene measures on board. They were required to fill out a health questionnaire before boarding, and will not be allowed to serve themselves food at the buffet table.”

No COVID-19 Testing of Guests? Questionnaires and Temperature Tests Won’t Work

The COVID-19 preventative measures of Mein Schiff, like AIDA Cruises, do not include testing of its guests for COVID-19. The website Argophilia in an article titled TUI’s Mein Schiff 2 Sets Sail Into Wicked Public Relations Storm reported that the passengers on Mein Schiff ships will not “even (be) required to have COVID-19 testing (other than a temperature check) before the journey. They are only required to fill out a questionnaire.”

This is consistent with what many people call the COVID-19 cruise restart protocols adopted by the European Union (EU) countries. The EU protocols do not include the mandatory testing of cruise guests. Ironically, the EU protocols were drafted by various individuals, paid by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, who comprise these cruise lines’ joint “Healthy Sail Panel.”

Guests will never completely and accurately complete health questionnaires about COVID-19 in order assist the cruise companies in excluding them from the cruise that they paid for and are prepared to take. Requiring vacationers to be honest about voluntarily disclosing their symptoms just related to gastrointestinal illnesses has not been successful over the years in the cruise lines’ efforts to reduce the spread of norovirus.  And neither a questionnaire nor a temperature probe will lead to the disclosure of COVID-19 by travelers who are not exhibiting symptoms. Indeed, the recent testing of the ten AIDA crew members who were positive for COVID-19 proves this point: 90% of those tested were asymptomatic and the remaining employee who tested positive had only mild symptoms. And they all had already reportedly tested negative before flying to Germany.

The “strict hygiene” measures touted by both lines will accomplish only so much. Eliminating self-service buffets is an obvious no-brainer. “Enhanced cleaning” sounds good but, again, has not been particularly effective in preventing norovirus or e-coli illnesses on cruise ships in the past. The primary method of transmission of coronavirus is not via contaminated surfaces but by droplets and/or airborne particles, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Enforcement of social distancing measures and the mandatory wearing of masks, as well as significantly reducing guest capacity on the ships, are important steps. But failing to test several thousands of guests who board these ships is reckless and irresponsible.

Guests will board the AIDA and Mein Schiff ships in the next month who are infected with COVID-19. They will inevitably infect other guests and crew members and contaminate the ship. But neither company will test the passengers for the virus before boarding. The result, unfortunately, will be entirely predictable (see tweets left and below).

The costs and logistics of testing may be significant and burensome. But the cruise industry has lost literally many billions of dollars since the beginng of the pandemic. The first COVID-19 outbreak on a cruise ship sailing from a port in Germany may well be a death blow to the struggling cruise industry.

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Photo credit: Mein Schiff 2 – Von HenSti – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.; AIDAmar – Sebaso – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.

Tweets: At least some people see the danger in cruising during a pandemic:

Ten crew members hired to work on AIDA cruise ships have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the German newspaper NDR. The German office for health and social affairs announced this news today. The newspaper states that “the detection of these infections is the result of the company’s preventive measures to prepare women and men to start work. The crews had been flown in from their home countries in Asia via Rostock-Laage (AIDA’s headquarters) during the week. The company has decided not to allow the two ships to leave for the time being.”

The re-start crews arrived in Germany earier this week from Asia and European countries and took buses from the airport to the Rostock  port, where the AIDAblu (above) and the AIDAmar (below) are currently moored. The crew members reportedly tested negative in their home countries before their flights to Germany.  Before the crew members were on board any of the AIDA ship, they were reportedly tested again in Rostock. “Ten tests were positive. Nine people are symptom-free, one has mild symptoms. They were placed “isolated” on board one of the ships, according to the protection concept, the health senator said. The crews are to be tested again on Sunday.” AIDA previously planned to resume operations at the beginning of August with short cruises without shore leave on the Baltic Sea.

Earlier this week, we reported that TUI Cruises, which operates the Mein Schiff 1 cruise ship, reportedly cancelled a July 31st cruise because as many as seven crew members tested positive for COVID-19. TUI earlier said that it postponed the cruise because it allegedly were unable to assemble a re-start team in time to be prepared for the first re-start cruise.

If this information is accurate, cancelling the re-start cruise was an inauspicious attempt at a re-start at cruising by the Mein Schiff company. This was supposed to be essentially a test cruise for Royal Caribbean which has a 50:50 joint venture with TUI of Germany which manages the Mein Schiff ships.

A German website, Der Kreuzfahrttester, published an article yesterday titled Blue cruise of the Mein Schiff 1 canceled! What’s the real reason? which addressed three possible explanations for the cancellation of the cruise: (1) Due to worldwide travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, the start team for the Mein Schiff 1 is not yet completely on board; (2) TUI Cruises apparently had problems getting the crew because “nobody wants to work for this company anymore;” and (3) COVID-19 tests for some of the oncoming crew was positive and therefore the Blue Cruise had to be cancelled (citing Cruise Law News). The site said “if this new information is correct, it must be published. There will probably be further cancellations, then for this ship.” It indicated that it asked TUI Cruises on Wednesday for an explanation but had not received a response.

In my view, attempts by the major cruises lines to try to return to cruising this soon will continue to be met with problems like this.

It remains to be seen whether the AIDA cruises in August will continue to go forward. We reached out to Carnival and were directed to AIDA Cruises for a comment but have not yet heard back from its communications department.

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Statement from AIDA Cruises:  This morning, we received the following statement from AIDA Cruises which we are posting in its entirety:

“As part of the occupational-medical health examination of the crewmembers having arrived on July 22, 2020, 10 positive cases were detected, none of which are related to the regular on-board operations.

The entire arriving crew was tested in their home countries before their departure to Germany. Another PCR test was carried out directly prior to the boarding. Afterwards, all newly embarked crewmembers went into single isolation on board.

It shows that the strict hygiene protocols AIDA Cruises has developed with the authorities are effective and that the company has taken the right preventive measures. AIDA Cruises will continue closely coordinating all steps with the responsible authorities in Rostock and the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and keeps implementing all increased preventive and control measures to protect against COVID-19.

All affected crewmembers are currently in strict isolation and have been quarantined. In order to verify the results, a second PCR test was carried out immediately. It has now confirmed the initial results. As a precaution, all other crewmembers having recently arrived are also being tested again for COVID-19 and remain in isolation.

The cruise ships AIDAmar and AIDAblu are not under quarantine. As a precaution, however, the crew will not be able to go ashore.

The preparations for the first upcoming cruises are continuing as planned. For the phased-in return to operation AIDA Cruises has developed a comprehensive set of health and hygiene protocols to help facilitate safe and healthy cruise vacation.”

Photo credits: AIDAmar – Sebaso – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons /  wikimedia; AIDAblu – Martin Falbisoner – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.

Today I mentioned that according to the popular Crew-Center site, TUI Cruises canceled the restarting of the cruise ship Mein Schiff 1. This cruise ship was scheduled to resume cruises on July 31st out of Kiel, Germany, according to German media. The cruise blog Schiffe und Kreuzfahrten reported this morning that the reason for canceling the cruise is because the company allegedly had a problem bringing back crew on board.

I posted the article on our firm’s Facebook page and asked whether any crew members had any additional information. According to two crew members who are on this particular cruise ship, the true reason for the cancellation is that seven crew members tested positive for COVID-19. Mein Schiff 1 had already completed its crew manning for this ship by this time. Those who tested positive were all newly joined crew members.

It’s an inauspicious attempt at a re-start at cruising by the Mien Schiff company. This was supposed to be essentially a test cruise for Royal Caribbean which has a 50:50 joint venture with TUI of Germany which manages the Mein Schiff ships. Royal Caribbean recently touted that it assembled a new group of experts called the “Healthy Sail Panel” to advise it about new policies and protocols to attempt to make cruising during the COVID-19 pandemic safe.

Carnival Corporation meanwhile announced that it is also initiating cruises primarily with German customers involving its subsidiary AIDA Cruises.

The Mein Schiff 1 is scheduled to begin a short cruise to nowhere from Kiel on August 3rd.

There is no question that attempts by the major cruises lines to try to return to cruising as usual will be met with problems like this.

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July 23, 2020 Update: A German website, Der Kreuzfahrttester, published an article titled Blue cruise of the Mein Schiff 1 canceled! What’s the real reason? which adressed three possible explanations for the cancellation of the cruise: (1) Due to worldwide travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, the start team for the Mein Schiff 1 is not yet completely on board; (2) TUI Cruises apparently had problems getting the crew because “nobody wants to work for this company anymore;” and (3) COVID-19 tests for some of the oncoming crew was positive and therefore the Blue Cruise had to be cancelled (citing this article). The site said “if this new information is correct, it must be published. There will probably be further cancellations, then for this ship.” It indicated that it asked TUI Cruises yesterday evening for an explanation but had not received a response. We have asked the German website to share the response if it receives one, and we will post it here.

July 39, 2020 Update: A cruise-related site managed by a German blogger writes:

“After a long silence, TUI Cruises has now confirmed the rumors that have been circulating for more than a week: As with AIDA Cruises, a few corona infections were also found among the crew members of Mein Schiff 1 flown in from Asia. That wouldn’t be that bad. However, the fact that the shipping company apparently did not want to expose this to the public is questionable.”

Photo credit: Mein Schiff 1 – Dickelbers – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) extended its “No-Sail Order” until October 1st after finding that the cruise lines “continued to allow their crews to attend social gatherings, work out at gyms, and share buffet-style meals,” according to the New York Times. The CDC concluded that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Royal Caribbean  violated “basic protocols designed to stop the spread of the highly transmissible virus,” as explained in what the Times referred to as a “scathing” 20-page order which you can read here.

Cruise Fans Accuse the CDC of Picking on the Cruise Lines

On our Cruise Law News home page on Facebook, several hundred cruise fans wanting to return to cruising expressed anger at the agency for extending the “No-Sail” order.  Many crew members, who are understandably upset because they need to return to work, also expressed their frustration over the development. Most people felt that cruise lines were unfairly being singled out when the airlines pack passengers into crowded airplanes and people congregate in bars and restaurants without masks in some states.

More Contact Tracing Than All Airline Outbreaks Since the Pandemic Began

The CDC recent order states that the agency spent at least 38,000 hours managing the coronavirus crisis. Public health authorities performed contact tracing for 11,000 passengers, more than the number of contacts identified from COVID-19 outbreaks from airplane flights.

Cruise Lines’ COVID-19 Response Plans Incomplete and Inadequate 

The CDC found the cruise lines’ proposed plans to comply with the extension of the agency’s April 15th No-Sail Order (NSO) to be incomplete and inadequate. By July 10th only one cruise line (Bahamas Paradise), which operates just one cruise ship in U.S. waters, had submitted a response plan which complied with the CDC’s requirements in its extended NSO.

Substantial, Ongoing Failure to Comply with the CDC

The CDC provided numerous examples of the cruise industry’s substantial, ongoing non-compliance with the extended NSO.

The CDC found that numerous cruise ships were:

  • Not exercising social distancing or requiring the wearing of masks.
  • Not placing crew in single cabins with private bathrooms.
  • Not closing crew bars, gyms and public spaces.
  • Illegally making crew transfers from ships with sick crew.

The CDC sent a letter to all cruise lines requesting that they respond to the agency’s concerns. Only Royal Caribbean and Virgin Voyages bothered to respond.

The CDC then sent a letter raising specific dates on non-compliance on several ships operated under the Norwegian Cruise Line Holding’s umbrella, namely the Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Joy, Oceania Marine and Seven Seas Voyager.

The NCL ships were clearly ignoring the CDC’s guidelines with large crew parties on the open decks where the crew mingled closely together without masks. Other crew members were forced to stay in cabins with other crew members and without private bathrooms. Our firm posted videos and photographs taken by crew members on the Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Epic in articles we posted in early May, titled “Ridiculously Overcrowded” Norwegian Escape Sails to Miami and Norwegian Epic – the Latest NCL Cruise Ship to Ignore the CDC’s Social Distancing Rule.

NCL initially ignored the CDC’s concerns and finally responded only after the CDC sent two additional letters demanding compliance.

Inadequate Testing – Crew Members Test Positive After a Month on Ships

Many cruise lines have not conducted random periodic testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic crew members as recommended by the CDC. The agency mentioned that on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Enchantment of the Seas, and Adventure of the Seas, the company failed to conduct such testing. As a result, these four ships reported no confirmed COVID-19 cases for twenty-eight days or longer. However, when the crew members’ home countries tested them when they were finally repatriated, 55 crew members tested positive for COVID0-19.  This problem exists through the cruise industry’s fleet of cruise ships; less than 40% of ships operating or planning to operate in U.S. waters had tested for COVID-19.

Exacerbation of Spread of An Already Highly Infectious Disease

CDC Director Robert Redfield blamed the cruise lines for “widespread transmission of the virus,” stating that from “March 1 until July 10, 80 percent of the ships in the C.D.C.’s jurisdiction were affected by the coronavirus.” The CDC confirmed that there were approximately 3,000 cases of infections and 34 deaths on ships in U.S. waters during this time period.

Director Redfield pointed to the numerous cases of confirmed/probable cases of COVID-19 cases on cruise ships after April 15th:

  • Disney Wonder, which earlier had a coronavirus outbreak which claimed the lives of several passengers, had over 270 COVID-19 and COVID-like illnesses among its crew members in April, May and June; the CDC criticized the Disney ship for inadequate spacing and mixing of stateroom for “sick” and “well” crew members.
  • Celebrity Eclipse – 100 confirmed/probable COVID-19 or COVID-like cases.
  • Coral Princess – 136 conformed/probable COVID-19 cases with 5 deaths.
  • Zandaam 33 confirmed/probable COVID-19 cases with 7 deaths.
  • Ruby Princess and Costa Luminosa – hundreds of COVID-19 (no officials count).

CDC: Cruise Ships Pose Higher Risk of Infection Than Cities

The CDC concluded that the current scientific evidence suggests that a cruise ship poses a greater risk of COVID-19 than other settings. “Cruise ship conditions,” according to the agency, “amplify an already highly transmittable disease.” The heightened rate of transmission is due to the high population density on a cruise ship, which is typically more densely populated than cities. Other factors likely contributing to transmission are crew living and working in close quarters in a partially enclosed environment where social distancing may be challenging, according to the CDC.

Director Redfield focused on an analysis on the Diamond Princess outbreak which was published in the Journal of Travel Medicine. This study showed that the basic reproduction rate, often called the transmission rate (Rt), on the ship was almost 15 (for each infection there was a transmission of COVID-19 to almost 15 others), which was over four times higher than the rate in Wuhan, China (the epicenter of the outbreak) which had a rate of 3.7.

The Cruise Industry is Continuing to Struggle With COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to devastate the cruise industry which finds itself without revenue and borrowing many billions of dollars to try and stay afloat. Incorporated in foreign (non-U.S.) countries, the cruise lines register its fleet of ship in feckless countries in order to avoid all U.S. taxes, U.S. wage and labor laws, and U.S. occupational health and safety regulations. The industry will have to respond to the CDC in a consistent manner – something that it has never been required to do before in its history on this scale. It will have to begrudgingly comply with the oversight of an U.S. agency which applies scientific principles to protect the health of the U.S. public.

Yes, the airlines should not be permitted to fly full such that there are passengers in every seat. Social distancing needs to be enforced across the airlines, hotels, restaurants and bars. But the CDC’S treatment of the cruise lines is not unreasonable just because people ashore are acting irresponsibly, particularly those selfish members of the public who refuse to wear masks.

One thing is certain. The cruise lines’ continued flouting of the CDC’s authority, as most vividly demonstrated by NCL on the Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Epic, will cause only additional delay in the industry returning to cruising.

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Airborne Transmission of Norovirus

In 2015, doctors participated in a study which determined that norovirus can be transmitted in an airborne form. They published their findings in an article titled Detection and Quantification of Airborne Norovirus During Outbreaks in Healthcare Facilities in the highly respected journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The medical experts concluded that rules need to be reviewed to take into account the possibility of airborne transmission of norovirus. They suggested the use of “mobile air-filtration units” or the “wearing of respiratory protection around patients with gastroenteritis” should be considered.

In May of 2015, a reporter for HealthDay News / U.S. News and World Report wrote an article titled Cruise Ship’ Norovirus Bug Can Spread by Air, Study Finds, saying that “notorious bugs that have infected scores of people and ruined countless cruise ship vacations — can spread through the air and infect people several feet away, according to new research.”  Thereafter, I wrote a series of articles asking whether cruise lines would be investigating the need to equip their ships with filters or require crew members responding to norovirus outbreaks to be equipped with respirators.

Cruise Lines Always Blame the Guests’ Hygiene

The cruise industry’s lobbying team at the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) has been lecturing the public for decades that passengers who came on the ship while ill or didn’t wash their hands were usually the cause of the virus’ spread.  Of course, norovirus can be brought on board ships by an ill passenger as well as by crew members. Gastro-related illness can also be caused by contaminated food and/or water, which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) have long stated is the most likely cause of the virus. Norovirus outbreaks can also be caused by crew members working while infected and poor cleaning practices. Of course, it takes an investigation by a skilled team of epidemiologists to come to a final, scientific explanation.

I wondered how the industry would spin the scientific data proving that norovirus can spread in the air and, by deduction, then easily be transmitted throughout the ship by the cruise ship’s air-conditioning.

No Cruise Line Investigated Airborne Transmission of Viruses

No travel related publications or any major news organization for the last five years covered the issue of whether norovirus outbreaks could be explained, at least partially, by airborne transmission. From the date of the 2015 study to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, there have been no announcements by CLIA or any of the individual cruise lines regarding the transmission of airborne viruses on ships or any consideration given to using sophisticated air filters for the shipboard air conditioning systems.

Coronavirus – Transmission of Droplets Through Close Person-to-Person Contact and Airborne Transmission?

Turning from norovirus to coronavirus, at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess, I asked Princess Cruises whether the virus can also be spread through airborne particles. In response to my inquiry which I posted on Twitter (along with a photo of Princess crew members huddled together in a hallway in the crew area), Princess Cruises denied that the virus can be transmitted through the air. It cited to the World Health Organization (WHO) for the proposition that the virus is “mainly” transmitted via droplets from close person to person contact.

A New Study – COVID-19 Likely Spread on the Diamond  Princess Via the Air 

Yesterday SFGate published an article (not peer reviewed yet) titled Study: Ship’s AC system likely spread COVID-19 which contradicts Princess Cruises’ claim that the virus was spread on the Diamond Princess (photo top) via droplets from close person-to-person contact. A new, unpublished study of data collected during the COVID-19 outbreak on the Diamond Princess in February suggests that the virus likely spread through the ship’s air-conditioning systems. Of course, the crew members were most affected by the virus as they were in cabins with no windows or balconies without fresh air.

A prior unpublished study (also not peer reviewed) dated three months earlier reached a different result, namely that the ship’s central air conditioning system did not play a role in the the long-range airborne transmission of the virus. There have been peer reviewed published studies indicating that HVAC as a major source for indoor and environmental contamination that can explain the swift viral spread of COVID-19.  There has also been studies regarding small droplet aerosols in poorly ventilated spaces and COVID-19 transmission. The Washington Post published an article We Cannot Keep Ignoring the Possibility of Airborne Transmission which discussed public health expert Joseph Allen’s opinions:

“I’ve been warning about airborne transmission of covid-19 since early February. The explosive transmission on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, as well as other coronavirus outbreaks, constituted telltale signs that airborne transmission was happening. Close contact transmission was likely happening on that cruise ship, but the disease had spread far more quickly than non-airborne diseases typically spread.”

There has been mixed opinions about whether coronavirus can be transmitted in an airborne manner. Obviously, it is not a binary explanation (droplets versus airborne). Clearly, there have been an increasing realization that coronavirus “may” be transmitted through the air.  Last week, over two hundred experts from over 30 countries wrote an open letter to the WHO, which appeared in the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, suggesting that coronavirus lingers in the air indoors and floating infectious particles may sicken others nearby. The New York Times addressed this issue in an article titled 239 Experts With One Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne. WHO responded to the increasing scientific research; last week the agency acknowledged that airborne transmission of the coronavirus may cause infections in indoor spaces. The WHO says aerosol Covid-19 transmission “cannot be ruled out.”

Some Experts Recommend HEPA Filters on the Ships 

Even before this newest report was published last week, some air quality experts concluded that cruise ship air conditioning systems are not designed to filter out particles as small as the coronavirus, allowing the disease to rapidly circulate to other cabins. Cruise ships typically do a poor job of filtering air, although there has been no clear consensus that air-conditioning systems can transmit coronavirus. Many experts nonetheless recommend the installation and use on cruise ships of medical-grade HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters to catch and remove the majority of pathogens.

In the past twenty years whenever a norovirus outbreak ocurrs on a ship, the cruise line always blames the passengers, usually before there is even an opportunity to conduct an epidemiology assessment. Cruise lines do not send epidemiologists onto cruise ships following an outbreak. They do not test whether the outbreak was caused by contaminated food or water versus poor hygienne by a guest or crew member. In the over 125 disease outbreaks at sea on cruise ships in the last ten years, the cruise lines have never come to a single determination as to the cause of an outbreak. However, they usually intimate that such incidents could be avoided simply by the guests washing their hands.

Why Didn’t Cruise Ships Install HEPA Filters?

By historically blaming the passengers, and never accepting or even considering the possibility that its food may be contaminated or its crew members (particularly food handlers) may be ill, the cruise industry has never invested in investigating the true cause of disease outbreaks over the years on their cruise ships. There have been literally hundreds of disease outbreaks in the last two decades, involving not only norovirus but e-coli, measles, Legionnaires’s Disease and other exotic viruses.

Yet, none of the cruise lines have ever hired a staff of epidemiologists, scientists,  public health doctors and infectious disease experts to study disease outbreaks at sea. Why? Because it seems that the cruise companies felt it unnecessary or too expensive. Before the pandemic, cruise lines responded to disease outbreaks like they did any other unpleasant occurence at sea – by always denying responsibility or blaming their guests. The cruise lines’ response has been to involve their PR teams to spin the story rather than to hire scientists to understand and develop solutions to the problem.

So far, NCL seems to be the only large major cruise line which is considering the possibility of using more effective filters in its air conditioning systems. Last month, Travel Pulse reported that NCL is considering the replacement of existing air filters throughout it fleet of ships with HEPA filters. NCL’s Norwegian Peace of Mind Sail Safe New Enhanced Health & Safety Protocols state that NCL will install “medical-grade air-filters, H13 HEPA, that remove 99.95% of airborne pathogens across our entire fleet to ensure the air you breathe is clean.”  Whether this will really occur is less than certain.

Travel Weekly today reports that Windstar Cruises will retrofit its six small ships with hospital-grade air filters.  The cruise line working group which created what is commonly called the new EU protocols has a chapter ( “7.8 – Adequate ventilation”). It suggests that the “ventilation rate should be such as to provide as much outside air as possible.” It also proposes (but does not require) that air handling units be switched from recirculation to 100% outside air whenever possible or cruise ships should explore the possibility of “improving air filtration as much as possible and using HEPA filters or Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI).”

It remains to be seen whether other major cruise lines will follow suit. Carnival Corporation, for example, has over 90 large cruise ships which should be installed with HEPA filters. So far, Carnival has not announced any new protocols. Its CEO Arnold Donald stated at the recent earnings call that the company has “not actually gotten to the point of serious resumption of cruise discussions with the CDC . . . ”

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Update: A reader brought to my attention Virgin Voyages’ “Voyage Well” policies which tout “a breath of (literal) clean air.” Virgian claims that its ships have installed “the latest technology from AtmosAir Solutions — an air purification system that disinfects air on board. Leveraging bi-polar Ionization technology, this air purification system has been shown to kill 99.9% of viruses — making us the first in our industry to treat 100% of the air on board with this technology.” Plus it states that “our sea terrace ratio is one of the highest in the industry — allowing plenty of access to (salt-infused) fresh air.”

Photo credit: Diamond Princess – Alpsdake – file extracted from another file: Diamond Princess (ship, 2004) and Port of Toba.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; Diamond Princess bottom – © Carl Court/Getty Images via Live Science Coronavirus quarantine ends for some cruise ship passengers, sparking worries over virus spread.

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Reducing the occupancy of ships once the industry is permitted to return to sailing is an integral first step toward combating the spread of COVID-19. But fewer passengers means fewer cruises fares sold. And most significantly, reduced occupancy means reduced onboard revenue from alcohol sales, casinos, gift shops, specialty restaurants and shore excursions. I have always doubted that the current cruise excutives would ever voluntarily reduce the number of customers who buy cruises and drink, eat and gamble on their ships.

Financial Times reported yesterday that NCL CEO Frank Del Rio and Royal Caribbean’ CEO Richard Fain, who recently announced a joint “Healthy Sail” panel, warned of a “severe blow” to the industry if social-distancing measures that reduce the number of passengers on ships are required.

“One of the hallmarks of the cruise industry is that we always sail with full ships. It’s one of the basic tenets of our business model,” cruise executive Del Rio told the Financial Times. Lower capacities “would be a severe blow” to financial performance, he added. CEO Fain said that it is a “simplistic approach” to “assume that you simply take what happens on land and apply it on to the sea.”

CEO Del Rio is right, of course, at least about the industry always operating its increasingly huge ships at 100% occupancy in order to maximize profits. Royal Caribbean made a business decision over a decade ago to embark on building the largest cruise ships at sea which hold record numbers of passengers and crew. Ships like the Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas, among others, led Royal Caribbean to record profits year after year.

Humongous ships filled with paying customers and operating non-stop is indeed a cornerstone of the wealthy cruise industry’s business model, together with incorporating in foreign countries and registering ships in feckless flag of convenience countries like Panama and the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. taxes, U.S. wages and labor laws, and U.S. safety regulations.

Huge cruise ships packed with passengers seems to be one of the factors which led to the CDC issuing its “no sail” order due to the pandemic. In its first no sail order in March, the CDC noted that the “high volume of people” who are assembled and intermingle together is a key feature of cruise ships which increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

In the past several months, there has been scuttlebutt that cruise lines will operate their ships at as little as 40% occupancy depending on the type of ship. And some cruise executives, like Richard Fain, previously discussed having fewer passengers on board their ships to allow for social distancing. “My guess is that when we start, we will limit the number of people who can go onto a ship just as my neighborhood restaurants are beginning to open up,” he told CNBC six weeks ago. But CEO Fain has changed hs mind before, like when he recently called the wearing of mask a “silly idea” after his company said face masks would be used throughout his fleet if the Royal Caribbean “faceview” were accepted as a patent.

It remains uncertain what precautions the RCCL/NCL “Healthy Sail” panel will submit to the CDC at the end of next month. But one thing is certain, the cruise executives will try to convince the CDC to let them sail their ships full of guests.  The EU protocls, which members of the “Healthy Sail” panel were partially responsible for creating, has no mention of reducing the number of passengers anywhere in its 49 pages.

As we mentioned in our article yesterday,  Dr. Scott Gottlieb who NCL and Royal Caribbean hired to co-chair the “Healthy Sail” panel, stated last March that “it’s an awful risk to pack a lot of people on a cruise ship.” But now, after he finds himself on the cruise lines’ payroll, he changed his tune to agree with NCL’s CEO Del Rio that a cruise ship can be among the “safest place on earth.”

Del Rio collected over $85,000,000 in the last five years. NCL collected nearly $1,000,000,000 in profits, with Royal Caribbean profiting with $1,800,000,000 and Carnival with $3,200,000,000. In March, Del Rio stated that any restrictions on cruise operation should “immediately stop.” CEO Fain has collected an average of $12,000,000 a year in compensation each year for the last 6 years for a total of approximately $72,000,000. He collected $14,358,919 in compensation in 2019, $12,422,715 in 2018, $13,343,413 in 2017, $10,405,684 in 2016, and $12,013,878 in 2015.

There is no way these cruise lines will collect billions of dollars in income or the CEO’s will receive tens of millions of dollars in compensation each year with their ships half or a quarter filled.  That’s why when the so-called “Healthy Panel” comes out with its protocols next month, there will be no mention of reduced occupancy. The CEO’s will try and pack their ships with as many paying passengers as their ships will hold.

It’s is hard to take the cruise lines’ claim seriously that the “health and safey of guests is their highest priority.” It seems more accurate to say that the cruise tycoons’ wealth rather than their customers’ health remains their primary conern.

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Photo credits: Richard Fain – Richard Fain Interviews Governor Mike Leavitt About RCL & NCLH’s Joint “Healthy Sail Panel” via Cruise Critic; Frank Del Rio – Opening Bell, January 11, 2018 from CNBC.

Today the U.K. government issued advice against cruise ship travel.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) originally issued guidance last March advising those U.K. nationals who are over-70 years of age and those with underlying medical health conditions, such as chronic diseases and diabetes, against taking cruises. A FCO spokeperson state in March:

“Our first priority is the safety of British nationals. The nature and design of cruise ships – where passengers are contained and the virus can spread faster – makes them a particularly risky environment for vulnerable people. We’ve already seen the impact a coronavirus outbreak can have on board a cruise ship and we have changed this advice with the safety of British nationals in mind.”

The U.K. government updated its advice today, saying that “the Foreign & Commonwealth Office advises against cruise ship travel at this time. This is due to the ongoing pandemic and is based on medical advice from Public Health England. The government will continue to review its cruise ship travel advice based on the latest medical advice.”

You can read the FCO’s advice here.

Cruises from the U.K. have been halted since March. Travel Weekly reported that Hurtiguten recently announced plans to operate cruises from U.K. ports starting in September.

The announcement surprised and angered many travel agents and cruise fans.

Jane Archer, a U.K. travel journalist and super cruise fan, went so far as to claim that the cruise industry has “moved heaven and earth to make sure its ships are safe.” The fact of the matter is that few cruise lines have even announced their new COVID-19 precautions at this point. More startling, there are still crew members on cruise ships at sea and on ships in ports in the U.K.  who the cruise lines have not even repatriated home at this late date, nearly four months after cruising was suspended. Some crew members are still testing positive for COIVD-19 on ships. Others are tested positive when they finally repatriated home.   

The Guardian reported last month that the U.K.’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) detained four ships operated by the U.K.’s Cruise and Maritime Voyages (photo right) moored in the U.K. after inspectors found expired and invalid seafarers employment agreements, late wage payments and crew members who had been on board for over 12 months, in breach of the Maritime Labour Convention. The crew members had to organize a hunger strike to bring attention to their mistreatment.

The U.K. cruise ban comes shortly after the EU just announced “interim advice for restarting cruise ship operations after lifting restrictive measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” dated June 30th.  These new guidelines are arguably a good first start but they clearly do not adequately protect the public’s health and safety in many respects. The EU advice fails to even require social distancing as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A number of readers reacting to this news are predicting the end of cruising for the foreeable future, perhaps until 2022 or until there is a vaccine. Here are some comments from the Travel Weekly article:

  • Maybe just maybe the FCO have been listening to my views – cruising is out until 2022 at the earliest. Health before wealth. On a liner of say 3-5000 passengers it just takes one person to be diagnosed and the ship is closed by EVERY port. This government is doing a marvellous job – well done.
  • The Virus is not now under control. The U.K. will experience a similar spike to the U.S. (where the lockdown was lifted prematurely). Even places such as Hong Kong and Australia, known for robustly controlling the virus, are seeing spikes. Parts of Melbourne are back under lockdown.
  • The complexity and variability of the restrictions is a disaster for the sector. Combined with the lack of financial support the travel industry as we know it is history.
  • This will be in place until a vaccine is found. No question.
  • Well I think we can all forget cruising in 2020. It would just be impossible in the present environment. It makes no difference on the size of the ship. Countries at the moment dont want cruise ships. Simple. Travel is coming back, cruising is the not for the near future.

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Photo credits: Cruise and Maritime Voyages