A number of crew members aboard the Ruby Princess have requested assistance as the cruise ship remains drifting off the coast of Australia for over a week.

The crew members, who have requested to remain anonymous, have stated that several of the most seriously ill seaman have been transported from the ship. The crew is concerned that there does not appear to be a firm plan for their future as more and more of their colleagues on the ship become ill.

The predicament facing the crew member follows several thousands of guests from the Ruby Princess, many of who were ill, being permitted to leave the ship in Sydney and disperse throughout Australia and the world, via international airports, without even having their temperatures taken. Since then well over a hundred passengers have tested positive for COVID-19. To understand the scope of this debacle, listen to the podcast How the Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle spread coronavirus across Australia via the Guardian newspaper.

This morning we received this particular message from a crew member on the ship.

“Ruby Princess has been drifting off Australia since March 20.

Despite the best efforts of Princess, the Australian Government will not assist the vessel, where 1050+ very scared crew members are literally imprisoned on board with no real concrete info or plan.

The crew is sick and getting sicker.  2 days ago they off loaded in the dead of night a Senior Officer to the hospital – tonight 3 more crew members, one on a ventilator, were also sent off.  Pics & announcement made to crew attached.

I need to remain anonymous.  I will check this email in the morning Australia time and if you need further details I can call.

Please help this situation is now dire.”

In an updated message, the crew member stated:

“Guests off since 3/19. Got a few tests several days ago but only swabs so far no way to tell if crew are positive for COVID. Crew have all been put in Guest cabins about 700 with another 300 serving those in cabins. (making & delivering food, temp checks, etc.). Crew are terrified. No solid information only pep talks broadcast by Hotel Director. Commodore (Snr. Capt. of fleet) made an angry announcement as crew were not following isolation saying no port would allow ship to dock in present condition and it would be months before crew would see their families. Commodore was to retire at the end of the last cruise and is not reassuring. No idea how many actually have Covid but MANY have symptoms including lack of taste & smell.”

Nearly two months ago, the world watched the the Diamond Princess fiasco unfold with over 700 guests and crew members eventually testing positive with ten people dead. Then a month later, another cruise ship owned by Carnival Corporation and operated by Princess – the Grand Princess – made a relatively quick turn around at the port in San Francisco following a cruise to Mexico with several passengers with coronavirus aboard. Nineteen crew members later tested positive before the ship was locked down in port in Oakland. What, if any, lessons did Carnival Corporation and Princess learn from these prior debacles?

Other Carnival Corporation-owned cruise ships, operated by Holland America Line (HAL), are facing similar dilemmas. The HAL Zaandam currently is in the midst of a coronavirus which has killed four passengers so far and sickened numerous more. The HAL Rotterdam, after rendezvousing with the Zaandam near Panama is now transferring guests which the company claims are “well” onto the Rotterdam. A crew member, who also wishes to remain anonymous, sent a photograph of a “Welcome Aboard” letter which was placed in each new guest’s cabin, together with complimentary beer and wine. The crew members, meanwhile, are naturally concerned that these new guests, and the crew, will eventually become sick with COVID-19.

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Update: A news station in Australia covered the COVID-19 outbreak involving the crew members on the Ruby Princess.

Photograph: Top – transfer of ill crew member from the Ruby Princess – anonymous crew member; Ruby Princess in Sydney- Getty Images via the Guardian Newspaper.

At the televised coronavirus press conference this morning, President Trump announced that he is considering using Carnival Cruise Line ships as floating hospitals for coronavirus patients. President Trump stated that he received a “generous offer” from Carnival Corporation’s Chairman Micky Arison.

Trump further stated that he will be speaking with the governors of the state of New York and California to obtain their thoughts regarding how the cruise ships might be used. The president said that he was scheduled to meet with FEMA after the press conference.

The U.S. federal government used Carnival cruise ships in the past following hurricanes which struck the Caribbean in the fall of 2017 and New Orleans in 2005.  Carnival made tremendous profits after the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) accepted no-bid contracts totaling over $310,000,000 for the use of four ships.

Although Trump characterized cruise tycoon Arison’s offer as “generous,” he did not mention any details of the proposed deal.

The last deal which Carnival struck with FEMA was in 2017. The deal involved the charter of the Carnival Fascination to house relief workers in St. Croix following a series of hurricanes in 2017. Carnival referred to the lucrative deal as evidencing a humanitarian commitment to the Caribbean relief efforts.

I later obtained a copy of a Carnival-FEMA charter agreement for the use of the cruise ship pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FEMA. The relevant terms are that FEMA agreed to pay Carnival $74,700,000 for the use of the Carnival Fascination over the course of four months. The charter agreement included $39,700,000 plus “costs” of $35,000,000 for a total of $74,700,000.

In 2005, Carnival made another no-bid deal with FEMA to charter the Carnival Sensation, Carnival Ecstasy andCarnival’s Holiday for 6 months following hurricane Katrina.  FEMA paid Carnival $192,000,000 plus $44,000,000 for fuel and other expenses.

FEMA was roundly criticized for paying a total of $236,000,000 for the three Carnival ships over the course of six months, an amount which the Washington Post called an “exhorbitant price.” The Post commented that if the ships were at capacity for six months, the price per evacuee would total over twice what an average passenger would pay which “would include entertainment and the cost of actually making the ship move.”

In 2005, following hurricane Katrina, the cruise trade organization, CLIA, requested that the U.S. Treasury Department exempt Carnival from paying income tax on the cruise ships it chartered to FEMA, even though the ships were moored in U.S. waters during the entire charter, making them clearly subject to U.S. taxes.

Carnival and its cruise executives have experienced huge losses in the stock market over the last several weeks, particularly after it finally suspended its operations. Carnival’s stock price has fallen from a one year high of around $60 a share down to around $10 today. Carnival is obviously looking to recoup its loss of billions of dollars in operating income. Last year Carnival Corporation netted profits of over $3,200,000,000 on total income of around $20,000,000,000.

Carnival Corporation is incorporated outside of the U.S. and registers all of its over-100 cruise ships in countries like Panama and the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. taxes and labor & wage laws.  Micky Arison reportedly has a net worth around $10,000,000,000.

When the terms of the Carnival-FEMA agreement eventually emerge (we will be making a FOIA request today), expect to see charter agreements showing that Carnival will receive substantially more for the charter of its cruise ships than it would have earned if the ship were full of fare-paying passengers.

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Update:

Carnival clarified the offer in a press release later this afternoon. Saying the ships would not be used for treating those with coronavirus or who are under quarantine. Also Carnival later said that it is “offering the use of the ships at the costs of operating the ship with no profit to the company.”

The Washingto Post reported that “crew members would handle maritime operations, food service and cleaning, while, in this proposal, local government bodies or hospitals would take care of medical services.” It is less than clear exactly what the crew members, many of whom rely exclusively on tips, will receive in compensation for cleaning, cooking and delivering food.

Carnival -FEMA Contract by jim walker on Scribd

Photo credits: Roger W from Sarasota, Florida, U.S.A. – George Town – Carnival Freedom, CC BY-SA 2.0, commons / wikimedia.

Several MSC crew members state that MSC is attempting to convince them to waive their legal rights to future compensation by signing a repatriation notification document.

MSC recently requested all of its employees on its cruise ships to sign this notification, which states:

MSC Cruises’ Notification For Crew Members

We care for you, our MSC Family, and want to make you stay safe and healthy during this global crisis of Covid-19, and this is why our ships are stopping and we are sending all of our guests and crew home.

These global actions are out of our control, but we are a strong MSC Family and we believe we will make it through these rough seas to see fair sailing very soon. We offer you free repatriation and will create priority to those who will be leaving mid-contract who wish to join us again.

We thank you for supporting MSC during this emergency situation by filling up the below request.

We would like to thank you for your support over the past week as it has been a time of collective hard work and extraordinary measures, of which we are confident that we can overcome them and be sailing soon with you our MSC Family onboard.

Request of the Crew Member

Due to the Covid-19 virus disrupting our daily operations, I respectfully request that I be repatriated home, as soon as possible. I would also request under the circumstances, that MSC Cruises cover the cost of my return trip home.

As soon as operations are back to normal, I would like to ask that I be given priority to be immediately deployed back to my duties on board the ship. I am choosing to disembark from now (Name of vessel ——-) or  any other MSC Cruises vessels.

Thank you very much for your kind understanding of my request for my immediate return home.

NAME: LASTNAME

ID#

DATE OF BIRTH

PLACE OF BIRTH

Sincerely yours,

(signed by the CM)”

Our Opinion

The notification is misleading and is borderline fraudulent. We recommend that crew members not be tricked into signing it.

Pursuant to the terms and condition of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA)(photo below left), crew members are contractually entitled to two (2) months of their basic wages unless they have engaged in “drunkenness, insubordination, smuggling, theft” or other faults which are obviously inapplicable here. So if MSC was really concerned with their crew members’ safety and health, they would repatriate their employees and would pay them at least the minimum payments required under the employees’ collective bargaining agreement. Ideally they should be paid for as long as they remain out of work.

Instead, MSC is ignoring the express terms of the CBA and is attempting to convince its ship employees to waive their two months of wages by suggesting that if they elect to leave the ships now, it may hire them back. The notice does not explain that by signing the document, the ship employees are waiving the right to receive payment pursuant to the terms of the CBA.  It is a one-sided attempt to save MSC money by appealing to the crew’s loyalty and preying on their fears.  But the notice  does not require MSC to re-hire anyone. It does not even have a line for anyone to sign on MSC’s behalf. The letter is just a thinly designed ploy to trick the ship employees in waiving their future wages by suggesting that they will have “priority” in being hired again.

If the cruise line is really a “strong MSC family” which will survive the current rough seas and return to sailing “very soon” as it claims, then it should pay the hard working crew their contractual wages at a minimum.

MSC states that it will pay the airfare for those crew members who sign the letter. However, it is already responsible for such transportation unless the crew member engages in misconduct. Many crew members have already signed the letter, without fully appreciating that MSC will deny them their future compensation, because they were afraid that they might be stuck on the ship and might have to pay for the travel home themselves.

I have been contacted by at least a half-dozen MSC crew members who state that they are greatly concerned that MSC is avoiding payment of the wages which they are entitled to receive. All of them have asked to remain anonymous out of fear that MSC will retaliate against them.  Many of the crew members are from the Philippines and have worked hard on the MSC ships to support their extended families. They have bills and mortgages to pay. Many have loans, which they took out just to get on the ships, which they must repay. The prospect of MSC abandoning them frightens them.

Many crew members have circulated a letter to the president of the Philippines asking for the government to suspend the payment of mortgages and other financial obligations. This may be especially necessary given MSC efforts to avoid its obligations to its crew members.

ATTN:Office of the PresidentMalacanang, ManilaPhilippinesDear Sir President, Duterte,Good day. I hope this email…

Posted by Buhay Sa Cruise Ship on Friday, March 13, 2020

The cruise lines are heavily lobbying for a bailout by the U.S. federal government. Yes, the stocks owed by investors and the cruise executives have significantly fallen (from 52 week highs to today’s lows: RCL is down from $135 to $20, CCL from $52 to $9, and NCL from $60 to $7) But it is the hard working crew members who will be financially destroyed if their employers who refuse to meet their obligations. If there will be a bailout of the cruise industry, the cruise lines must be compelled to earmark funds to keep their employees financially afloat for the next year.

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Photo credit: MSC Meraviglia Estormiz – CC0 commons / wikimedia.

Several years ago, I attended the annual Sea Trade Conference (now called the Cruise Shipping Miami) where companies which cater to the cruise industry promote their services and products. One company was advertising disinfectant spraying services for the cruise lines in order to eradicate contagious viruses. The company displayed a mannequin wearing a full body hazmat suit.

The Cruise Industry Has A History of Providing Inadequate Equipment and Training to its Crew Members to Deal With Viral Outbreaks

I have never seen or heard of a crew member wearing such a suit in combating the hundreds of virus outbreaks which have plagued cruise ships over the last twenty-five years. MRSA, Norovirus, E. coli, H1N1, Salmonella enterica, Staphylococcus aureus, Legionella pneumophilia, Hepatitis B&C, Aspergillus niger and so on.

So I took a photo of the suit (top) and added it to my collection of photographs of Cruise Shipping Miami 2015, thinking this is what cruise lines should be using when dealing with a virus outbreak.

A number of people subsequently sent me photos (below right) and videos of crew members spraying after norovirus outbreaks. They are usually wearing inadequate personal protection equipment (“PPE”). Gloves maybe, but inappropriate masks, no face-guards, and no bodysuits, of course. “That’s too expensive,” cruise lines undoubtedly concluded, before the coronavirus outbreak occurred. The sad reality is that no crew member seems to have ever worn such an outfit in dealing with the run-of-the-mill norovirus outbreak.  Fast forward to the current cruise coronavirus outbreak. No cruise line has staffed its ships or equipped its crew members with such equipment to deal with outbreaks.

As the New York Times’ article titled Failures on the Diamond Princess Shadow Another Cruise Ship Outbreak has made clear, the crew members on the Diamond Princess, who were forced to interact with ill guests on the Diamond Princess were literally ill-prepared to deal with the coronavirus.

New Cruise Coronavirus Outbreaks

Coronavirus outbreaks on cruise ships, of course, have continued to occur even after the cruise industry announced that it has temporarily suspended  operations.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ Braemar is  25 miles off the Bahamas after twenty guests and an equal number of  crew members, including a doctor, are in isolation after they displayed influenza-like symptoms. The latest news is that there are at least five confirmed coronavirus cases aboard the ship.

Passengers who recently traveled aboard the Carnival Valor cruise ship are being urged to contact their local health department after a disembarked passenger tested positive for COVID-19. According to local news reports, the Carnival Valor cruise left from New Orleans on Feb. 29th to Cozumel and Yucatan, and returned to New Orleans on March 5th. The patient with the confirmed case returned home to Ohio on March 6th and started having symptoms the next day. He was tested for COVID-19 on March 12th, and officials received the positive test result on Friday night. (If anyone from the Central Ohio area was on the Carnival cruise ship the Valor from Feb. 29-March 5 they are asked to call 614-645-1519). It appears that Carnival is not concerned with checking whether other people, like taxi and uber drivers, airplane passengers and other cruise guests, have been infected with coronavirus:

When Carnival finally suspended its operations, it claimed that it had never experienced a crew member or guest with coronavirus. It can’t claim that anymore.

There are also several new coronavirus outbreaks on Carnival-owned cruise ships operated by its subsidiary, Costa.

The Carnival-owned Costa Luminosa, Costa Favolosa, Costa Diadema and Costa  Magica experienced coronavirus outbreaks aboard both ships, according to crew members who contacted our office.

Ironically, a passenger from a cruise ship in the Cayman Islands with coronavirus became the first such patient in that island with the disease. Carnival had earlier refused to call on the Cayman Islands because it had refused to cowtow to Carnival’s attempt to avoid its strict health protocols.  Later the Costa Luminosa disembarked two ill passengers in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico  barred a Celebrity Summit cruise ship from the port of San Juan from disembarking because a Canadian passenger, already back home in his country, tested positive for COVID-19 and died, according to the Miami Herald.

A Canadian passenger tested positive for coronavirus over the weekend on the Silver Shadow, which is docked off the port of Recife in Brazil, according to a passenger on the ship who contacted me. The test came back positive for COVID-19. The ship is under quarantine. The passengers state that not all of the crew members are wearing PPE.

The Silver Explorer docked in Castro, Chile, this weekend after an 83-year-old British passengers was diagnosed with COVID-19. The ship’s owner, Royal Caribbean, confirmed the coronavirus case on Sunday.

The Norwegian Jewel, which apparently has no coronavirus cases at this time, is searching for a port after being denied permission to dock in ports in French Polynesia, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia, and is now piloting to American Samoa to refuel.  NCL says that it is working to find an alternative port and is communicating with guests regularly, which passengers dispute.

Meanwhile, NCL has been accused of fraudulent conduct in selling cruises and misrepresenting the seriousness of the pandemic. A series of emails sent to the Miami New Times, and later published by the Washington Post, reveal that NCL gave false information about coronavirus to the public to lure passengers aboard its ships. An employee informed the New Times newspaper that NCL managers pressured sales staff to lie to customers about COVID-19 to protect the company’s cruise sales. One such talking point included the false promise about “warm air killing the virus.”

Miami’s Daily Business Review just reported that a class action lawsuit was filed last Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that investors took financial hits due to false statements to passengers such as saying that coronavirus wouldn’t affect their cruises.

Crew Members Express Fear of Being Sickened or Abandoned

Crew members on the Costa Diadema indicate that the ship is sailing back to Savona from Dubai without passengers aboard. They are expressing alarm that Costa is taking the ship to Italy due to the high rate of infection in Italy. Crew members on this ship who are at the end of their contracts were not permitted to disembark while the ship was in Dubai. Meanwhile, there are crew members who have tested positive with coronavirus on the ship.

Over one thousand crew members on the contaminated Grand Princess still have not been tested even though 19 of their colleagues on that ship are ill with COVID-19. There appears to be no plans by any cruise lines, even with ships which call on U.S. ports, to provide medical treatment ashore for their employees in order to comply with their maritime and legal obligations

Crew members are uniformly expressing concern that their employers will refuse to pay them anything once they leave their ships and are returned home.  Several MSC crew members explained that they are at the beginning of their contracts and the cruise line will not compensate them at all once they are sent home.  Crew members from the Philippines have written an open letter to the president of their country asking for their mortgages, loans and other financial obligations to be suspended so they can try to survive financially.

ATTN:Office of the PresidentMalacanang, ManilaPhilippinesDear Sir President, Duterte,Good day. I hope this email…

Posted by Buhay Sa Cruise Ship on Friday, March 13, 2020

In an article titled Cancellations Due to Coronavirus Drive Fear Among Cruise Workers About Being Sent Home Without Pay, the Washington Post explains that many crew members worry not about catching the virus, but about their contracts being cut short and being sent home, without pay.

Ironically, the Trump administration is indicating that the foreign-flagged billion dollar cruise industry will likely be provided with U.S. financial aide, with no mention of the financial burden that crew members are now facing. Cruise lines already enjoy tax benefits and are not required to comply with U.S. wage and labor laws. The industry should not receive a handout unless financial consideration for the crew, who are the backbone of the industry, be approved. The net worth of Carnival Corporation’s Chairman Micky Arison is over $8,000,000,000. NCL’s CEO Frank Del Rio earned around $32,000,000 one year alone a couple of years ago. Bailout funds should not find their way into the pockets of these “fat cat” cruise executives.

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This past month, I have spent a lot of time back home in Arkansas tending to some family matters.  Being in a down-to-earth location like El Dorado, Arkansas makes it exceedingly clear just how greedy the Miami-based cruise lines truly are.

My home town of El Dorado has a Fortune 200 company called Murphy Oil Corporation.  The oil company was founded by my uncle, Charles Murphy Jr., who took charge of the family timber, oil, and banking interests in south Arkansas in the early 1940’s.  He single handedly created a Charles H. Murphy Jr. - El Dorado Arkansas - Murphy Oil diversified, international exploration, drilling, refining and marketing energy company.  Rather than relocating his business to Houston, Dallas or New Orleans, he kept the company’s headquarters in the little downtown of El Dorado (photo below), just a few blocks from the house where he was born and where my parents and grandmother lived when they were alive.

Uncle Charles was a firm believer in the power of education.

When I was a kid, he handed me a copy of 101 Sonnets, a collection of sonnets from a hundred and one different poets.  I studied the poems religiously, mostly out of fear that he would ask me to recite his favorite sonnet in front of our family and cousins.  When he learned that I was taking French in junior high school, he would speak to me only in French and ask that I say grace before dinner, in French of course.

My uncle passed in 2002.  He left an incredible legacy.  And I am not talking about the billions in taxes his company and family paid to the U.S.  He made donations to colleges in Arkansas and Louisiana. He served  on the Arkansas Board of Higher Education.  He served as a director of the Smithsonian Institution and as a trustee of the Ochsner Medical Institution.  He created and funded the Murphy Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans which studies the interdisciplinary field involving economists, historians, moral philosophers, and political scientists.

Murphy Oil carried on his tradition of education and giving in 2007 when it created The El Dorado Promise.  His company pledged to pay $50,000,000 over the next 20 years in tuition to students graduating from high school in our home town.   In just the second year of the program, 312 students are attending college on $2.1 million of Murphy Oil funds.  The remarkable generosity of the Murphy family has been covered in People MagazineTime MagazineWashington Post and many other national newspapers and television stations.

The cruise industry, on the other hand, is a different beast.  It has an uniquely selfish business model.

Cruise lines incorporate their businesses and register their cruise ships in foreign countries like Panama (Carnival) and Liberia (Royal Caribbean) in order to avoid U.S. labor and safety laws and, Downtown El Dorado Arkansasmost importantly, U.S. taxes.

Of the $40,000,000,000 (billion) or so which the cruise industry collects from tax paying U.S. citizens a year, the cruise industry pays $0 in U.S. taxes.  That’s right.  Zero.

To divert attention from this spectacle, every so often one of the foreign flagged cruise lines will issue a media release about a token “charitable” cause, usually involving a modest sum.

This is emblematic of the cruise industry, paying no U.S. taxes, investing nothing in the U.S., exploiting foreign workers, and conducting highly publicized yet unimpressive marketing stunts as its standard operating procedure.

The cruise industry has a lot to learn.  Perhaps the cruise line executives in Miami can take a trip to El Dorado and learn a thing or two about real generosity and investment into people.

I will be pleased to introduce them to my cousins in Arkansas.

Several cruise lines announced yesterday that they are suspending cruising due to the emerging coronavirus outbreak. Following Viking Cruises and Princess Cruises’ suspension of cruising, Disney Cruises, AMA River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, Celestyal Cruises, Saga Cruises, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises are all suspending their cruise operations.

European lines such as Saga made the decision after the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office advised British nationals aged 70 and over and those with pre-existing health conditions against cruise ship travel at this time.

Fred Olsen Cruises is also temporarily suspending its operations after one it confirmed coronavirus infections on one of its ship, the Braemar.

According to World Maritime News, several cruise line have faced “fierce criticism” for continuing operations amid the outbreak due to the increased risk  to guests and crew members posed by the spreading of the contagious virus in the tight confines of the ship with thousands of people aboard at the same time. As matters now stand, there are at least 19 crew members ill with coronavirus quarantined on the Grand Princess cruise ship while it is docked in Oakland, California, rather than being provided with medical treatment ashore. It remains unknown whether the one thousand other crew members have even been tested yet for COVID-19.  Testing of the several thousand guests also remains largely unknown. Such issues have to be on the minds of the cruise executives weighing whether to suspend cruises.

Virgin Cruises announced the delay in the maiden cruise planned for its first ship, Scarlet Lady, until August 7th.

Last night, MSC Cruises also announced that it was, in its words, “adjusting or canceling” some of its itineraries. In a posting on Facebook, MSC’s CEO Gianni Onorato stated that it is cancelling the cruises of MSC Bellissima and MSC Lirica starting from March 14th, including the “Grand Voyages” of the MSC Bellissima on March 21st and that of MSC Lirica on April 18th due to a limitation on passengers’ movements imposed by the local authorities in the Emirates.

MSC is also cancelling the cruises of the MSC Grandiosa from March 14th to March 28th, and the cruises of the MSC Opera from March 10th to April 21dt due to the “limitation of movements requested by the Italian government, and the announced closure of Spanish ports.”

A crew member sent us a copy of a letter from the Spanish government announcing the closing of ports in Spain yesterday.

Today, Canada temporarily barred all cruise ships that carry more than 500 people, including crew, from docking in Canada until July to protect against the growing pandemic.

The ports in Santa Barbara and Monterey, in California were the first U.S. ports to announce they would stop cruise ship arrivals, according to cruise expert Gene Sloan. Both cities cited the U.S. State Department’s advisory which states: “U.S. citizens, especially with underlying conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.”

In the past week, a number of countries blocked passengers from calling on ports in the Caribbean. Jamaica and the Cayman Islands did not permit a MSC cruise ship, the MSC Meraviglia from calling on their ports because of concerns that flu-like symptoms of a crew member may be due to coronavirus. Carnival refused to permit the Carnival Freedom and Carnival Horizon from calling on ports in Jamaica because the government of Jamaica  would not cowtow to Carnival and agree not to enforce Jamaica’s stringent health protocols, as we reported last week.

Ironically, the Cayman Islands just announced its first coronavirus patient in the island yesterday. The person came from a cruise ship as a cardiac patient.

Gene Sloan also reported that the list of countries which are banning cruise ship arrivals include India, United Arab Emirates Malaysia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Taiwan.

The port of Baltimore is now closed, which caused Carnival to cancel the next cruise involving the Carnival Pride which is currently in Freeport on a cruise to the Bahamas and is expected to return to Baltimore on March 15th.

The emerging coronavirus has caused great uncertainty for all cruise lines as to whether their ships will be turned away from scheduled ports. Over a month ago, HAL’s Westerdam was denied permission to dock in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam and the Philippines before Cambodia finally permitted it to disembark passengers there.

Passengers today on the Silver Shadow (photo above left) informed me that Brazil is placing the cruise ship under quarantine after a passenger is suspected to have coronavirus.  The Silver Sea ship is in Recife, Brazil toward the end of a 12 day cruise. It was expected to end the cruise in Barbados on March 19th. Brazilian newspapers are just now reporting that a 78 year old Canadian is reportedly ill.

The threat of a outbreak when you have several hundreds to several thousands of people together seems inevitable.  This is the obvious reason why the NBA suspended the professional basketball season, concert promoters postponed events, and the CDC continues to recommend against large social gatherings.

It seems also inevitable that other major cruise lines will follow Viking’s lead and suspend their operations.  I suspect that the next major cruise line to do the right thing will probably be Royal Caribbean which is now trading at just $31 a share which is nearly 80% off its 3 month high of $135. Carnival will probably be the last to come to grips with the new reality. At this late date, it is entirely predictable that Royal Caribbean or Carnival, if they refuse to suspend cruises, will find themselves in the unenviable position of becoming the Princess Cruises which earned the reputation of the coronavirus cruise poster child given its poor handling of the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess quarantines.

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Update:

NCL just announced that it is suspending cruising for 30 days.

Royal Caribbean announced that it is suspending cruising from U.S. ports for 30 days.

Carnival Cruise Line announced that it is suspending it operations from U.S. ports. Costa Cruises is also taking similar steps.

Photo credit: Saga – Shutterstock / StudioPortoSabbia via thisismoney.co.uk; Silver Shadow – Hesiodo Goes / Reuters.

In a remarkable turn of events, a cruise line announced last night that it was suspending its operations until May 1, 2020 in light of the coronavirus pandemic. This was the first time that a major cruise line finally did the right thing in light of the emerging coronavirus virus.

Viking Cruises published an open letter from its chairman Torstein Hagen in which he announced that his company is temporarily suspending the company’s operations of its river and ocean vessels embarking from March 12 to April 30, 2020. He stated that the emerging virus presents significant risks of quarantines or medical detentions, which could diminish its guests cruising experiences. Mr. Hagan announced that as of May 1st, Viking will be in a better place to provide evaluate whether it can deliver the experiences which its guests expect and deserve.

The company’s chairmen explained that an increasing number of ports, including Venice, Monte Carlo and Bergen, have temporarily closed to cruise ships. Major attractions such as the Vatican and museums in Europe have closed, and some countries are imposing restrictions on public gatherings and visitors.

Viking’s chairman also explained that as a “private company with strong finances,” it does not have to “worry about quarterly profit expectations – and that flexibility allows us the ability to do what is best for our guests and our employees.”

Viking is offering either (1) a cruise voucher valued at 125% of all monies paid to Viking or (2) a cash refund equal to the amount paid by  its customers. Guests will have 24 months to use their voucher to  make a new reservation on any river, ocean or expedition cruise. This offer is in stark contrast to the refund policies of most cruise lines which were slow to permit customers to cancel / reschedule their cruises without penalty and typically refuse to offer cash refunds.

A short video of Mr. Hagan calmly explaining Viking’s decision was also released last night.

Mr. Hagan is an astute Norwegian billionaire who earned a degree in physics at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, won a Fulbright grant to study in the United States, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Viking’s approach to this pandemic is a far cry from the selfish and petty actions of the major cruise lines which are struggling to come to terms with their falling cruise stock prices. Carnival Corporation (CCL), Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), and Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) are trading at low as 25% to 40% of their 52 week highs. CCL is down to around $21.75 from a high of around $52, NCL is down to around $15 from $60 and RCL is at $44 from $135.

The chairman of the cruise industry’s trade organization, Adam Goldstein, stated yesterday during an interview on CNBC that it allegedly is safe to cruise, echoing his earlier comments that “it is critical that Americans keep traveling” via cruise ships.

Ex Royal Caribbean International president Goldstein was widely mocked on Twitter for his selfish and tone deaf comments. He appeared to be largely motivated because his cruise stocks had fallen nearly 70% in the last two months.

Goldstein’s comments come at a time when CLIA has embarked on a media campaign to try and convince the public that cruising should not be interrupted by the pandemic, notwithstanding the U.S. state department advisory against taking a cruise.

While Viking’s prudent decision should be applauded, unfortunately other cruise lines like NCL is reportedly engaging in lies and deceptive conduct. Yesterday, Miami New Times reported that NCL pressured it sales team to mislead potential customers about the coronavirus.

Viking’s announcement that it is temporarily suspending its cruise operations was made essentially at the same time that the NBA announced that it was suspending the professional basketball season this year.

This responsible move by the NBA was made on the same day that Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIAH stated that there should not be public gatherings of more than 250 people at this time. Cruise ships today obviously contain far more than that figure, with from 2,000 to over 6,000 guests and 1,000 to over 2,000 crew members per ship. There is widespread understanding that huge cruise ships essentially act as “floating petri dishes” or, as some say, super incubators in spreading the highly contagious virus.

Congratulations to Mr. Hagan and Viking Cruises which seems to be the only cruise organization at this time which is demonstrating a genuine commitment to the “health and safety of its guests and crew members.”

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Update: Princess Cruises just announced that it is finally suspending operations for 60 days.

Skift’s Rosie Spinks sums up this development perfectly:

“On the question of why this cruise line in particular has appeared to be the most affected by the virus, Swartz said, “We don’t really know.” She later pontificated: “Perhaps the diverse mix of people on board our ships is reflecting what’s going in communities around the world.”

Critics have said otherwise, pointing to Princess Cruises history with infectious outbreaks of norovirus and other pathogens, as well as the industry’s overall regulatory framework which has long been subject to claims of lax health and safety standards.”

 

Photo credit: Top – Fortune magazine.

For the better part of the last decade, I have been writing on a regular basis about disease outbreaks which occur on cruise ships. In the past ten years, there have been over 120 disease outbreaks on cruise ships, involving norovirus, e-coli and other more exotic viruses, as well as measles and Legionnaires Disease.

Princess Is the Leader in Cruise Ship Disease Outbreaks

Not surprisingly, Princess Cruises has experienced the most norovirus outbreaks (and other gastrointestinal illnesses) of any other cruise line over the last decade. Not counting the recent coronavirus outbreaks on the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess cruise ships, Princess experienced 25 disease outbreaks on its cruise ships during this period of time, as reflected in the online database maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Failed USPH Cruise Ship Inspections

Princess recently experienced two back-to-back gastrointestinal outbreaks from February 2nd through March 1st which required the Caribbean Princess to return early to port in South Florida. Princess is also the only cruise line to have failed a sanitation inspection this year. The United States Public Health (USPH) gave the Regal Princess a score of only 77.  (USPH sanitation inspectors conduct inspections twice a year on cruise ships when they are in a U.S. port.  A score of 85 or below constitutes a failed sanitation score). The score of just 77 ties the lowest score ever given to a cruise ship operated by a major cruise line (like Carnival, Norwegian, or Royal Caribbean).

The Regal Princess joined the ranks of several other Carnival Corporation-owned cruise ships which failed USPH inspections in the last several years, including the Carnival Breeze (77), Carnival Fantasy (77), Carnival Triumph (78), Carnival Vista (79), Carnival Liberty (80), Golden Princess (81), Carnival Legend (83), Carnival Paradise (83), and Carnival Liberty (83).

Cruise Ship Disease Outbreaks – Why Does Princess Always Blame its Guests? 

The most likely disease outbreak on a cruise ship involves norovirus, of course, which strikes cruise ships an average of almost ten times a year given the close quarters on the increasingly huge ships. The cruise industry defends itself from criticism of what many characterize as the “cruise ship virus” by pointing out that norovirus also strikes hospitals, nursing homes and child care centers. That may be true, but it does not seem to be much of a selling point for cruise lines to compare themselves to locations where people are sick, old or infirm, or are children with poo in their pants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have long stated that the most common reason for norovirus is contaminated food or water. Of course, scientists at these agencies also tell us that food handlers (cooks and waiters) can spread the virus as well as other ship employees (such as cabin attendants). Passengers can also become infected when they touch surfaces contaminated with the virus or by passing the virus to each other.

No matter the cause of the outbreak, cruise lines like Princess and Carnival always blame the guests’ hygiene. Rather than performing a scientific analysis of the outbreak, cruise lines will simply pull out their PR playbook and suggest that cruise passengers need to wash their hands. Of course, if the food served on the ship is contaminated with norovirus, or the cooks or servers are infected, cruise passengers will become ill no matter how many times they wash their hands.

There is entirely too short of a turn around in the cruise ship’s home port to perform a through cleaning and disinfection of the contaminated cruise ship before the next several thousand passengers board. When the Grand Diamond returned to San Francisco on February 21st following visiting a number of port in Mexico, it remained only 8 hours in port in San Francisco before embarking on the next cruise. Later testing revealed at least 19 crew members and 2 guests infected with coronavirus. The vast majority of the guests and crew have not been tested so far.

Airborne Transmission

In 2015, scientists determined that norovirus can be transmitted via the air. I wrote a series of articles at that time about this troubling information  – Norovirus Spreads by Air on Cruise Ships and Airborne Norovirus – What Now Cruise Lines?  The cruise industry has been misleading the public for years that norovirus is primarily brought aboard by passengers, whereas it is more likely caused by a combination of contaminated food and/or water, crew members working while infected, poor cleaning practices and/or airborne transmission. Passengers can wash their hands all day long but will get ill if they breathe the virus which may enter their cabins through the air.

Irrespective of how this particular virus comes onto the ship, the cruise lines have to deal with the reality that norovirus can spread by air. Some experts suggested that the use of mobile air-filtration units or the wearing of respiratory protection around patients with gastroenteritis in order to take into account the airborne transmission of norovirus. But the cruise industry, in general, and Princess Cruises and Carnival, in particular, have done nothing to address this concern.

A Cramped Floating Petri Dish Turns into a Super Incubator at Sea

This is particularly troublesome considering the cramped spaces on cruise ships. If infectious norovirus particles can float down a hallway to a nurse’s station as proven in the clinical studies, the disease can just as easily float down the ship hallways and/or find its way into the air-conditioning ducts and spread throughout the ship. The matter is particularly serious given the fact that crew members reside in cabins located in the lower bowels of the ship without windows (or balconies). Without fresh air, the crew is particularly susceptible to a airborne virus transmitted through the ship’s air conditioning.

Buzzfeed recently published an article after the Diamond Princess coronavirus debacle, when crew members living in windowless cabins were infected due to a combination of their surroundings, inadequate personal protection equipment, and poor training and health protocols. It interviewed an expert on ventilation during the virus outbreaks, who told BuzzFeed News “in ships, you cannot filter the air well enough to stop viruses.” Buzzfeed went on to write that health experts have warned for years of the potential for cruise ship outbreaks, and quoted the expert stating that a “ship’s ventilation system, which relies on recirculated air filtered by medium-strength air filters, is an efficient way of spreading virus particles from room to room aboard a ship.”

Dozens of guests about the Diamond Princess have expressed concern that they have been infected due to the air conditioning blowing the virus around the ship.

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess, I asked Princess Cruises whether the virus can 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 for the proposition that the virus is “mainly” transmitted via droplets from close person to person contact.

However, WHO’s Director General publicly stated in a widely shown YouTube video that coronavirus is obviously highly contagious and may be transmitted in an airborne manner:

Today, CBS News published an article indicating that scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, with funding from the U.S. government and the National Science Foundation, determined that viable coronavirus can be detected up to three hours in the air after an infected person coughs, raising concerns that it can easily be transmitted in an airborne manner into tight crew quarters with only recycled air.

In fairness to Princess Cruises, it is nor perfectly clear whether coranavirus, like norovirus, can be transmitted in an airborne manner.  The CDC has not ever stated that coronavirus can be transmitted through the air. But the CDC has never even addressed the fact that norovirus clearly can be transmitted in this manner.  In any event, Princess and its parent company Carnival have never analysed this issue. They apparently have never authorized testing regarding whether norovirus or coronavirus can be transmitted through the air and how to deal with such a serious problem.

Why Hasn’t Princess Studied Why It is the Leader in Cruise Ship Disease Outbreaks?

A month ago, I began writing that Princess Cruises has not devoted sufficient interest or funds into understanding why it experiences the most outbreaks in the industry on its cruise ships. I rightfully called it greedy, along with several other cruise lines which at the time refused to permit concerned families, particularly elderly guests, to cancel or reschedule their cruises without penalty.

Over the last decade, neither Princess nor Carnival Corporation devoted any monies from its immense tax-free profits which it enjoys (by incorporating itself outside of the U.S. or flying foreign flags of convenience on its ships) to study the science of disease outbreaks on its ships and how an infectious virus enters their ships and is spread.  Princess and Carnival have not tried to determine, from a scientific basis, whether viruses are introduced onto their ships via food or water contamination or via their infected food handlers or via unclear ship surfaces, etc. versus being brought aboard by its guests and then spread through unsanitary practices.

The public should be asking why Princess and Carnival Corporation have not employed a team of highly educated, trained and experienced epidemiologists to study disease outbreaks in their fleet of cruise ships and to answer these questions: Why do the most disease outbreaks in the cruise industry occur on cruise ships owned by Carnival Corporation and operated by Princess Cruises? Why do the second most disease outbreaks occur on ships owned by Carnival Corporation and operated by Holland America Line (HAL)?

One reasonable explanation is that neither Princess nor Carnival want to know, because an honest answer by objective scientists may undercut their PR strategy of always blaming their guests.

Ill Crew Members Trapped in the Bowels of the Cruise Ship, Again

As I write this article, there are currently nineteen crew members who are ill with coronavirus on the Grand Princess after the ship finally reached port in Oakland. Over a thousand other crew members who are at risk of infection need to be tested. But Carnival announced that its ship employees, rather than receiving medical treatment ashore in California (where Princess is headquartered in Santa Clarita), will remain quarantined on the ship. A similar quarantine was uniformly criticized as a failure that spread the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess, resulting in over 700 ill and 8 dead.

Princess has a duty under maritime law to provide ongoing medical treatment to their crew members whenever they become ill. Many reputable cruise lines meet this legal obligation and moral duty by aggressively seeking medical paroles with the U.S. Immigration to permit their foreign ship employees to enter the U.S. for medical treatment. But Princess often refuses to do so, instead sending them from the U.S. back to their home countries to avoid the expenses of medical treatment.

History will soon repeat itself on the Grand Princess. Princess and Carnival, both characterized by federal district judges as recidivist corporate felons for their pollution crimes due to widespread dumping of oil and discharging of plastics, garbage, waste and chemicals, have not bothered to learn the lessons of the Diamond Princess fiasco. For that matter, neither company learned any lessons after a decade of disease outbreaks and failed USPH health inspections. These companies should have directed a fraction of their enormous annual profits over the last decade to hire a team of epidemiologists and scientists to get to the bottom of its disease outbreaks and, in the process, protect the health and lives of its guests and crew.

So it should come as no surprise that Princess is now the poster child of the coronavirus outbreak on cruise ships.

State Department: “U.S. Citizens Should Not Cruise”

And it should have come to no one’s surprise that in the face of Princess Cruises’ negligence and recklessness, the U.S. State Department, at the urging of scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experienced scientists at the National Institute of Infection, issued an advisory over the weekend stating that “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.”

More recently, the CDC’s Dr. Fauci retreated from recommending that all Americans stop cruising, instead stressing that elderly American and particularly ones with underlying medical issues should reconsider travel or vacation via a cruise ship. But as cruise executives try to suggest that suspending cruise operations is an exaggerated response to the now declared pandemic, it’s clear that Princes Cruises and Carnival Corporation have dragged the cruise industry down in terms of income and profits. Moreover, like they did with their widespread pollution, these companies are single handedly destroying the reputation of the cruise industry.

Today Skift published an insightful essay about cruise lines and coronavirus titled Nothing Could Stop the Cruise Industry – But Then Came Norovirus, written by Rosie Spinks. She cited Princess Cruises’ lack of investigation into disease on its ships notwithstanding 25 outbreaks in the last decade. She ended her article quoting me – “without sounding like I told you so, this has been a slow train coming.”

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Photo credit: Diamond Princess – 掬茶 – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.; Diamond Princess – Daily Mail; Grand Princess Crew Members – Reuters via Daily Mail.

Two brawls reportedly broke out on NCL’s Norwegian Encore earlier this week, with one fight captured by a cruise passenger, identified as Robert Steele, who posted the melee’ on his Facebook page.

He also posted the following comments with the video: “On 34th cruise and first one with a major security incident. NCL Encore last night. Second fight of night. Rednecks. I believe that they are being kicked off the ship today in San Juan. Otherwise a fantastic cruise so far!”

The Norwegian Encore is currently on a one week Caribbean cruise which left from Miami a week ago. It sailed to San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 3rd, St Thomas, USVI on March 4th, Tortola, and British Virgin Islands on March 5th, The NCL ship will now sail to Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas on March 7th before it returns to Miami on Sunday.

On 34th cruise and first one with a major security incident. NCL Encore last night. Second fight of night. Rednecks. I believe that they are being kicked off the ship today in San Juan. Otherwise a fantastic cruise so far! #WhiteMaleRage #SNL #notcarnival

Posted by Robert Steele on Tuesday, March 3, 2020

I have written a number of article about fights breaking out on cruise ships. It seems like most, but certainly not all, such brawls occur on Carnival cruise ships.  Watch Top 5 Brawls on Carnival’s Fun Ships.

This outbreak may well have broken out for the usual reasons – too much alcohol and too few (and undersized) security guards.  I’m not sure and I haven’t spoken with anyone on the cruise. But you can see a number of those in the fight holding on to their drinks and beer bottles as they swing wildly at one another.

Fortunately, it does not look like anyone was seriously injured, although not from a lack of effort.

One person who commented on the Facebook post suggested since that since the video has no sound, that you play the Benny Hill soundtrack to the video.  I agree, the video is best watched with the soundtrack playing in the background!

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Video Credit – Robert Steele Facebook page; photo – Norwegian Encore – Master0Garfield CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) informed Princess Cruise today that the CDC is investigating coronavirus cases in California connected to a previous cruise on the Grand Princess. This Princess ship sailed on a round-trip cruise from San Francisco from February 11th to February 21st.

According to the Sacramento Bee newspaper, an “older adult” (age not disclosed) was likely exposed to the virus while on the Grand Princess which sailed from San Francisco to Mexico.  The cruise guest is “critically ill” and in isolation at a local hospital according to this newspaper. (See update below – this patient has died).

A second passenger has also been diagnosed with coronavirus which involved the same Grand Princess ship, according to the Press Democrat. This person had taken a shuttle from the San Francisco port to a local airport. The newspaper reported that efforts are underway on finding other passengers who also took the shuttle.

The Grand Princess is now cancelling its call to Ensenada, Mexico scheduled for tomorrow in order to sail directly to San Francisco.

Princess emailed a “health advisory letter” to guests who sailed on the prior cruise aboard the Grand Princess. A similar letter was distributed to the current passengers who are currently sailing on the current cruise and may have been exposed to the virus.  The letter, which you can read here, states in part:

“For those guests who sailed w

with us on our prior voyage and may have been exposed . . . the CDC requires you to remain in your stateroom until you have been contacted and cleared by our medical staff. A member of our medical team will be calling you between the hours of 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM this morning. You may order room service while you wait for the medical screening to be completed . . . ”

There is no statement regarding whether crew members are also quarantined in their cabins, or whether they are required to continue to provide services to the guests as was done in the disastrous Diamond Princess quarantine in Yokohama, Japan. If the crew has been pressed into continued service, is Princess equipping the employees with appropriate masks, glasses, gloves and other suitable personal protection equipment (PPE) and training?

This outbreak may present a worst-case scenario. New passengers who are currently on the Princess ship will soon discover whether they are infected with coronavirus from the prior cruise. There are some guests on the ship who were on the prior cruise and took back-to-back cruises including the current itinerary. And the virus is likely to spread by passengers who left the Grand Princess and have taken cabs, buses and planes and interacted with the public after leaving the ship nearly two weeks ago.

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March 4, 2010 Update: The “critically ill” passenger with coronavirus died, according to a Placier county press release.

USA TODAY writes that “thousands of people on Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess may have been exposed to coronavirus after sailing with 62 passengers who company officials say had previously been on a voyage with a man who eventually died from the virus.” The newspaper further states that “there are 11 passengers and 10 crew members who have reported symptoms of coronavirus on board.”

Photo credit: Ivan T., CC BY-SA 3.0, commons / wikimedia.