A study published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) states that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) should prohibit the use of systems designed to reduce sulfur dioxide and other pollutants from ship emissions, often referred to as “scrubbers,” on newbuild ships and phase out scrubbers on existing ships.

The study, titled “air emissions and water pollution discharges from ships with scrubbers,” concludes that scrubbers are “not equivalently effective” at reducing air pollution compared to using lower sulphur fuels. Moreover, the report’s authors state that sulphur and other contaminants removed by the exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS) are routinely dumped overboard from the ships in the form of washwater.

The report notes that the IMO’s guidelines for scrubber discharges have not been strengthened since 2008 and they that ignore the cumulative effects of many ships operating and discharging washwater in heavily trafficked areas.

The study compares the air and water emission factors for ships using heavy fuel oil (HFO) with scrubbers and the emission factors associated with ships using marine gas oil (MGO) without scrubbers:

Particulate matter emissions are nearly 70% higher for ships using HFO with a scrubber as compared to ships using MGO. Black carbon emissions are as much as 81% higher for ships using HFO with a scrubber than ships using MGO.

A year ago, I discussed the harmful effects of scrubbers used throughout the cruise industry: Smoke and Mirrors: Cruise Line Scrubbers Turn Air Pollution Into Water Pollution. Carnival euphemistically calls its EGCS an “advanced air quality” system; Royal Caribbean calls its EGCS an “advanced emission purification” system. Whatever the name, the scrubbing systems turn toxic scrubber sludge collected from the ships’ emissions stacks into water pollution without materially reducing air pollution.

Smoke and Mirrors: Cruise Line Scrubbers Turn Air Pollution Into Water Pollution

Most travel and cruise writers shy away from covering this issue. In 2018, we discussed a situation where a Princess Cruises cruise ship appears to have piped scrubber sludge overboard while in the port of Ketchican. Port employees observed discharges coming from the Star Princess cruise ship in Ketchikan, Alaska and took photographs which showed darkened splotches in the water and lumpy black material floating near a piling.

Princess Cruises Discharges Scrubber Sludge in Alaskan Port

Princess claimed that the discharge was most likely naturally occurring “sea foam.”

Cruise lines have heavily invested in scrubbers so that they can continue to use low price but high sulphur fuel. The study points out that scrubbers have increased from 3 ships in 2008 to more than 4,300 in 2020. Expect a continued campaign of false and misleading information coming from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and the other cruise companies if and when they resume sailing.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Top – Star Princess Scrubber Sludge at Berth 4 in Ketchikan, Alaska – City of Ketchikan; middle – Carnival Freedom cruise ship – anonymous; bottom – Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas cruise ship – AlaskanLibrarian’s Flickr photostream.

The Latest Number of Infected

The highly publicized debacle of the SeaDream 1 COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold. The last count of people infected during the cruise increased to nine (7 guests and 2 crew members) so far.  There may be more people infected who are scattered around the world.  Incredibly, last weekend the cruise line arranged for 46 passengers who were potentially infected on the ship to travel on commercial international flights to their respective home countries which have been identified as the U.S., England, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany, according to a local newspaper, and, according to travel writers, Canada as well.

No Contact Tracing on the Flights From Barbados

These 46 passengers are still in the incubation period for the virus. There appears to be no interest by SeaDream in staying in touch with its guests who have returned home to various parts of North America, Europe and the U.K. and learning whether they were infected during the cruise.  There is no way for anyone to track whether the departing guests infected fellow travelers in the commercial aircraft flying from Barbados, in the airport terminals, in taxis to the airport or trams to the airplanes.

One travel writer wrote “I still wonder why we were allowed to leave Barbados rather than made to quarantine . . . ” She added that the cruise guests were crowded into buses ending in a “virtual stampede” of passengers with “masks dangling off one ear,” onto a British Airways (BA) aircraft for the long flight back to England.  Other cruise bloggers, who posted a photo of  travelers crowded on the airstairs up to the jet, complained that they were required to leave the country of Barbados rather than be quarantined. They commented on their YouTube channel that they were “stuffed” along with ten other cruise guests into a completely full BA flight with people coughing, sneezing and not wearing their masks properly. One travel writer commented that she was surprised that no one from SeaDream checked on her once she had returned home to England to determine whether she was experiencing any symptoms.

No Masks, No Pre-Cruise Quarantine, No Post-Infection Quarantine, and Commercial Flights Home 

The media has focused on SeaDream’s outrageous decision not to have a mask policy but has largely ignored the fact that the cruise line affirmatively dissuaded its guests from wearing masks on the ship. A local newspaper in Barbados quotes a vice president for SeaDream as saying “We do not want people to wear masks onboard. . .”

The media has also largely ignored the fact that SeaDream encouraged guests from the U.S. (with its out-of-control COVID rate) to fly to Barbados on the day of embarkation with the intention of Barbados classifying them as ‘in transit’ so that they could bypass the island’s current 14-day quarantine. Once the COVID-19 outbreak took place, SeaDream refused to transfer all remaining passengers or crew (other than those who tested positive) from their cabins to quarantines, isolation rooms ashore.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which SeaDream claims that its policies are aligned with, requires cruise operators to “arrange to disembark and transport passengers and crew using noncommercial transportation.” The CDC also requires cruise operators to make “housing agreements” with “shoreside facilities for isolation and quarantine of COVID-19 cases and close contacts.” SeaDream obviously made no effort after the cruise to isolate and quarantine the passengers ashore at the home port in Barbados.

The cruise line also ignored its obligation to “inform ground transportation, air charter operators, and other agencies with relevant jurisdiction that COVID-19 had been detected in passengers or crew and confirm that the operators have in place procedures to notify and protect the health and safety of their staff (e.g., drivers, aircrew)”, as required by the CDC (as well as common sense and human decency).

SeaDream continues to tout that it required “multiple negative PCR tests” before boarding, but it fails to fully understand that even truly vigorous testing does not guarantee a safe environment particularly when masks are not worn. You do not need to be an epidemiologist to understand this. All you have to remember is the disastrous “super-spreader” event at the White House and Rose Garden. Yes, there was extensive testing but dozens of members of the current administration became infected after they chose not to wear a mask.

A Beach Guarded by Armed Police  

A little known fact is that SeaDream 1 stopped at a beach in St. Vincent called the “back sand beach” in Mt. Wynne after the police cleared locals from the public beach. One travel writer on the cruise euphemistically  explained that the excursion was “supervised by police.” But the local people in St. Vincent viewed it differently.  One person living in St. Vincent described the police force as the “Black Squad.” She sent me a photograph of the spectacle, writing “this is an image of heavily armed police officers deterring local people from that lovely black sand beach …”

Contact Tracing in St. Vincent

After the excursion to the beach, a number of guests took a catamaran excursion to the Tobago Cays archipelago and marine sanctuary in St. Vincent. Most travel writers mention that they previously had no or minimal contact with local residents, but there is no question that some of the cruise guests interacted with employees of the tour company. After this excursion, news of the COVID outbreak on the SeaDream ship was widely discussed on the radio in St. Vincent and local newspapers with one paper reporting that contact tracing was initiated to protect the local excursion employees potentially exposed by the cruise guests.

Just How “Successful” Have European Sailings Really Been?

SeaDream and its supporters point out that the company successfully operated more than 20 sailings in Norway since June without any cases. Perhaps this is true, but past success does not guarantee a safe future, particularly when you reposition the ship to the Caribbean and invite guests from the U.S. where COVID-19 cases are now surging to over 180,000 per day (as of yesterday).

It has also been largely under-reported that there have been over 195 people infected during cruises in Europe, notwithstanding new health protocols invariably described by the cruise companies as “rigorous.”  There have been four outbreaks on river cruise lines in the past seventy-five days where over 90 people were infected. Ten crew members were infected on the MS Thurgau Chopin (formerly the MS Frederic Chopin) river cruise ship operated by Swiss company Thurgau Travel. Sixty of ninety-two passengers (two-thirds) who sailed on the river cruise ship MS Swiss Crystal were infected on a cruise on the Danube and Main within the last three weeks. In early September, eight guests and crew members on a CroisiEurope river cruise ship on the Douro River in Portugal tested positive for COVID-19. Three weeks ago, German newspapers reported that at least thirteen people were infected on another river cruise ship, MS Vista Serenity, on the Moselle River in Germany.  In some of these cases, the local newspapers reported that passengers left the ship without realizing that there had been an outbreak on board.

In addition, 74 people were infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships, including the MS Roald Amundsen (71) and MS Finnmarken (3 with 1 death). Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises also recently experienced outbreaks on their cruise ships. Eight people were infected on the Costa Diadema and eight people also tested positive on the MSC Grandiosa.

Silversea’s Silver Spirit also had one COVID-19 case in early September during a Red Sea cruise.

A Ponant cruise ship, the Jacques-Cartier, was involved in a COVID-19 outbreak where thirteen people were infected. The ship was initially delayed in leaving an Italian port.  On its website, the Compagnie du Ponant boasted of exceptional cruises in “an anti-Covid bubble” with “its state-of-the-art health protocols.” 

Back to the Drawing Board?

In a press release finally issued yesterday, SeaDream announced that it decided to cancel sailing for the remainder of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Incredibly, it also stated that the company “will now spend time to evaluate and see if it is possible to operate and have a high degree of certainty of not getting Covid.”

Here’s a hint:  No, its not.

The SeaDream 1 outbreak provides further proof that a cruise line cannot magically create a “bubble” to keep passengers and crew members safe from COVID. Absent a tested and effective vaccine, it is not possible to safely cruise during this pandemic.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photos: SeaDream 1 – SeaDream Yacht Club.

The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line’s Grand Celebration is likely heading to the beakers in India based on a report today from Cruise Industry News. The cruise news journal stated that the old cruise ship “is likely heading to the end of her cruise career as the ship is rumored to have been sold for scrap and is currently sailing toward India.” Tracking services show the ship sailing through the Bahamas into the Atlantic.

The cruise line has been embroiled in a labor dispute with its crew members involving allegations that it did not pay its crew for many months, liedto them and retaliated against them.

The Miami Herald reported in October that crew members have reached a settlement of the lawsuit which claims that they were forced to work for five months without pay.

But ten days ago, a federal district court judge here in Miami ruled that the proposed $875,000 settlement agreement between the cruise line and its estimated 275 crew members was “wholly inadequate,” and instructed the lawyers for the crew and the cruise line to keep negotiating. The Miami Herald quoted a lawyer for Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line as saying that the company was struggling to stay afloat, and that “bankruptcy is a possibility.”

The cruise line is also many months in arrears in paying dockage fees of $50,000 per month to the Port of Palm Beach.  The cruise line reneged on its previously negotiated settlement with the Port to pay over $142,000 in dockage fees. Since that time the cruise line has incurred additional dockage fees of $50,000 per month for October and November.

A number of other newspapers have also reported on the alleged malfeasance of the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, including the Washington Post, the New York Post and the Daily Mail in the U.K.

It looks like Bahamas Paradise may have decided to cut its loses and sell the cruise ship for scrap metal if the report from the cruise journal is correct.

A number of other cruise ships have ended up in scrap yards in Turkey and India and are being dismantled for scrap metal sales after the Covid-19 pandemic all but destroyed the cruise industry. We previously wrote about the Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Inspiration, Carnival Imagination, Monarch of the Seas and Sovereign of the Seas, which are in the ship “graveyard” in the port city of Izmir, Turkey.

We last reported on the Grand Celebration in August after a concerned citizen sent me a photo of the cruise ship, once operated by Carnival, Costa and Ibero cruise lines, spewing thick black smoke from its orange painted funnel over the port. I wrote about the incident in an article titled Grand Celebration Pollutes Even During “No Sail” Period.

The Bahamas Paradise hosts only a skimpy one-page website. It does not look like the cruise line will survive. Last October, it announced that instead of returning to Grand Bahama Island using the Grand Celebration, it planned to use the Grand Classica commencing on December 18, 2020. Considering its financial problems, this may be wishful thinking.

Have a comment of question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: Grand Celebration: top- Bahamas Paradise; bottom – anonymous.

 

 

Yesterday, I wrote in the article titled SeaDream’s Caribbean Cruise: Champagne, Caviar and COVID-19 about what I described as like watching a slow motion train wreck. The week started with travel writers and cruise bloggers boarding the SeaDream 1 cruise yacht in Barbados and lauding their host’s so-called “rigorous” health protocols which did not even require passengers or crew members to wear masks. Then, as to be expected, there was one passenger who felt ill and tested positive, then five guests tested positive, and then seven guests were confirmed with COVID-19. This morning we learn that a crew member was added to the people infected.

SeaDream Yacht Club, meanwhile, continues to refuse to provide information to the public, releasing only a single, misleading press release that only one guest was “assumptively positive” and that “all guests and non-essential crew members are in quarantine in their staterooms in an abundance of caution.”

But the truth is that the are (so far) eight people from the ship who tested positive and are in isolation ashore in Barbados. In addition to bits and pieces of information which the travel writers and cruise fans have intermittingly tweeted out, the local press in Barbados most recently reported that “seven passengers and a crew member who were aboard the SeaDream 1 now docked in Barbados are at the Harrison Point isolation centre in St Lucy with COVID-19.”

The seven passengers who tested positive reportedly are part of a group of 53 total passengers who were identified by a newspaper in Barbados as consisting of 37 Americans and 16 other people from the U.K., Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany. Other publication says some of the passengers were from Canada.

As far as the remaining forty-six passengers are concerned, SeaDream and Barbados permitted them all to leave the ship and fly back to their respective countries! This is obviously in violation of  every imaginable health protocol (as well as common sense) in responding to a shipboard outbreak.

SeaDream claims that its procedures are “aligned” with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (which technically do not directly apply to this non-U.S. sailing). But the CDC requires that all remaining passengers or crew (other than those who test positive) must be transferred from their cabins to isolation rooms and quarantined. Cruise operators must also make “housing agreements” with “shoreside facilities for isolation & quarantine of COVID-19 cases and close contacts.”

Cruise operators are also required to “arrange to disembark and transport passengers and crew using noncommercial transportation.” Cruise lines also have an obligation to “inform ground transportation, air charter operators, and other agencies with relevant jurisdiction that COVID-19 has been detected in passengers or crew and confirm that the operators have in place procedures to notify and protect the health and safety of their staff (e.g., drivers, aircrew).”

It appears that SeaDream made no arrangements to have the guests who had not yet tested positive for the virus to be isolated and quarantined ashore. Nor has the cruise operator arranged for non-commercial flights. It is questionable whether this company informed any of the airlines and local transportation that there was an outbreak on board their ship and these particular guests had been on the ship. It appears that both the cruise operator and the home port accomplished the same objective – to get the guests off the ship and out of the country. To hell with others in the local buses, airport terminal, trams, and airplanes. Who cares if this outbreak spreads off the ship to other countries?

Some of the former guests are now tweeting photos of boarding commercial flights and flying home to various locations around the world. One guest who flew on a British Airlines flight last night to the U.K. remarked on Twitter that he was “crammed into airport trams (in Barbados) like sardines! People not wearing masks on flight!”

A local newspaper in Barbados reported that the country’s Chief Medical Officer explained that these eight cruise ship cases “will not be included in Barbados’ count of COVID-19 cases since Barbados regarded this as a humanitarian mission.” The Minister of Tourism and International Transport was quoted in another newspaper as saying that the “image of Barbados was safe” because “these cases could not be counted as part of Barbados’ statistics and therefore should not reflect negatively on the island’s stellar management of the virus.”

There is nothing “humanitarian” or “stellar” about stuffing  people potentially exposed to a deadly virus onto crowded planes and flying them around the world in order to keep your country’s COVID statistics low.

This continuing traveling-during-a-pandemic-train-wreck reflects poorly not only on the SeaDream organization but on the country of Barbados as well.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo credits: The Points Guy/Handout via Reuters/New York Post

Witnessing the events unfold over the past week on the SeaDream 1 cruise ship seemed like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

In an article written by Doug Parker (of Cruise Radio fame) ten days ago, SeaDream Yacht Club officials said that “masks will not be required to be worn on the yacht, thanks to the extensive pre-departure testing designed to create a negative “bubble.” This immediately appeared to me to be a dangerous if not reckless marketing ploy which disregarded not only science and the best efforts of the joint Norwegian Cruise Line – Royal Caribbean Cruises “Healthy Sail” panel’s recommendations which had been adopted by the cruise industry’s trade organization Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).

Cruising during a deadly pandemic is obviously a dangerous idea, even if the ship required its guests and crew members to wear masks. But SeaDream not only made such a reckless decision, but invited an assortment of travel writers, bloggers, and cruise fans to observe the spectacle. SeaDream insisted that it magically created a “safe bubble” that its blogging guests repeated in their press stories.

The handful of travel writers and bloggers joined fifty other guests who suspended logic and reason aboard the first cruise in the Caribbean since the industry was forced to suspend operations in mid-March. Most passengers were from the U.S., U.K. and Canada, among other countries. Most if not all all of these countries have warned their citizens against cruise travel. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCO) of the U.K., where many of the cruise guests reside, clearly “advises against cruise ship travel . . . due to the ongoing pandemic . . .  based on medical advice from Public Health England.” The FCO also restricted travel from England, including internationally, “from 5 November to 2 December 2020” which included the entire time period of this ill-conceived cruise.

Canada also recommends that its citizens avoid all travel on cruise ships outside of the country due to COVID-19. The U.S. Department of State, of course, has warned U.S. citizens against travel by cruise ship since last March. These warnings are in addition to the findings of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that there is “ample evidence” that cruise ship travel has the potential to exacerbate and amplify the spread of coronavirus. In fact, the CDC explains that cruise ships pose a “greater risk” of COVID-9 transmission that other settings. You can read the CDC’s latest order here.

The cruise industry has worked hard to convince the public that cruising is nonetheless safe and to disregard these travel warnings. In fact, SeaDream marketed this cruise for those travelers who wanted to cruise without the hassle of wearing a mask. One of the travel writers invited on the cruise, Gene Sloan who writes as the Points Guy, reported that some of the cruise passengers “signed up for this trip specifically because they were told they wouldn’t have to wear a mask, and they said they wouldn’t have taken the trip if they had known a mask-wearing requirement was coming.”

Mr. Sloan’s photos of no-one-wearing-a-mask-on-the-cruise-ship when he boarded last Saturday, November 7th, caused an uproar on social media. Cruise Radio called the anti-mask cruise “irresponsible.” Another popular cruise commentator, the Cruise Guy, labeled it as “ludicrous.”

Another twenty travel agents and cruise fans voiced their observations of the spectacle of frolicking on a luxury yacht without a mask as asking for trouble. I tweeted: “Hey @CDCgov @CDCDirector take a look at this – no masks by crew members or social distancing via @SeaDreamYC #cruise – how long before a #COVID19 outbreak?”

Sure enough, the following day, several of these travel writers reported that one of the guests reported feeling sick and tested positive for COVID-19, causing the ship to begin a quick return to Barbados. All guests were ordered to quarantine in their window-less and balcony-less cabins (more about that later). CNN tweeted an article which was retweeted many thousands of times with thousands of comments, the majority of which expressed astonishment that people were actually cruising as the U.S. public faced a surge in new COVID-19 cases exceeding an average of well over 100,000 per day.

What then followed was a surreal experience where all of the writers and bloggers felt compelled to post effusive tweets and photos about the quality of the food, the wonderful room service, and how wonderfully they were treated.

Perhaps a more relevant subject for the guests to be thinking about was the risk of staying on the ship. This is an older yacht-style cruise ship which probably has the same design shortcomings of most cruise ships. It is questionable that it has air-conditioning systems designed to bring fresh air into the cabins rather than just recycling stale air and potentially airborne particles. Compounding matters is the fact that the cabins do not have either windows or balconies. Facing accusations that cruise ships are “floating petri dishes” or “super-spreaders at sea,” the larger cruise lines have claimed that their ships have been retrofitted with HEPA filters and new designs that reduce the likelihood of airborne transmission.

Finally, the press-passengers reported via Twitter that additional tests taken by authorities in Barbados revealed that as many as seven passengers tested positive. (It is less than clear whether this included the first person infected). Fortunately, there were reputable journalists like Mr. Sloan aboard who could convey accurate information otherwise it is doubtful that the cruise operator would have been forthcoming with details of the outbreak. The SeaDream organization has consistently refused to provide information to the public, releasing only a single press release that only one guest was “assumptively positive” and that “all guests and non-essential crew members are in quarantine in their staterooms in an abundance of caution.”

The issue now is how long will the passengers on the SeaDream be kept in isolation on the ship? Basic health protocols should require a quarantine of at least 14 days.

Contrary to the SeaDream press release, one guest has been taken ashore in Barbados and hospitalized. A local newspaper in Barbados reported that the Barbados Health and Wellness Minister said that one passenger with COVID-19 is in “isolation facility” ashore with others on the ship. So far, the Minister says: “no one is being allowed to leave the vessel.”

One follower of this blog, who was aboard the ill fated Coral Princess nine months ago, informed me that Barbados did not permit cruise passengers to disembark that cruise ship after an onboard outbreak occurred except for one person in serious condition who later died:

But it appears that most guests believe that they will be permitted to leave he ship and travel home today. If true, such a decision is as irresponsible as not requiring masks at the inception of the cruise.

Obviously, there is a real danger of the virus infecting other travelers if any of these passengers are permitted to fly back to their respective countries without first going through an extended quarantine and then be retested. Of course, Barbados, which has largely kept the coronavirus under control, does not want to see the virus spread in its country. It is doubtful that it will offer to quarantine any additional passengers. And it is equally doubtful that SeaDream is interested in paying for over fifty of its guests to be isolated ashore even assuming that Barbados would agree to such a quarantine plan. So it appears that a decision to fly the passengers home to their respective homes may be made by default caused by neither the home port nor the cruise company taking responsibility.

Irrespective of how SeaDream handles this mess, the outbreak already has the attention not only of the major networks and newspapers, but the U.S. Congress as well. Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who introduced the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, who authored legislation to strengthen cruise safety legislation, have requested CDC Director Redfield to reinstate the “no-sail” order.

Meanwhile, the cruise passengers remain in limbo. They are momentarily stuck between a port state which does not want to incur the wrath of its own citizenry by inviting them ashore, and the cruise line which wants them and their cameras off the ship. The travel advice issued by the U.S., U.K. and Canada included warnings that travelers faced the risk of an extended quarantine and inability to return from their cruise trips. The U.K., in fact, has a prohibition against all travel outside of the country. Under such circumstances, it appears absurd that the cruise guests have any reasonable expectation of traveling back home any time soon.

But, perhaps, no more absurd that cruising during a deadly pandemic in the first place.

Have a comment? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

November 14, 2020 P.M. update:

One of the travel bloggers posted a letter from the captain advising the passengers to follow “national and local recommendations and requirements” when they return home. The guest who posted the letter has already completely ignore the U.K.’s FCO travel advice and violated the ban against all travel from that country. It is less than clear whether any of the local transportation companies or the airlines from Barbados have been notified of this outbreak.

Top photo credit: Gene Sloan, the Points Guy.

 

Shortly after noon today, travel writer Gene Sloan, the Points Guy, reported that a guest aboard the SeaDream 1 cruise ship tested positive for COVID-19 in his article The First Cruise Ship to Resume Sailing in the Caribbean is Having a COVID Scare.  He explained that:

“A passenger on SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream 1 has tested positive for COVID-19 on a preliminary basis, the captain of the vessel, Torbjorn Lund, announced in a shipwide intercom address shortly after noon on Wednesday. Lund asked all passengers to return to their cabins, where they would be isolated. Nonessential crew also would isolate immediately, he said.”

Mr. Sloan wrote that according to the captain, “the passenger who was tested had felt ill before the test.” The captain further explained that the results of the rapid test were positive and the cruise ship was “working under the assumption that it had one or more COVID patients on board.”

This particular voyage, which Mr. Sloan and other travel writers promoted as creating a safe “bubble”of a cruise, was marred by controversy from the start. Mr. Sloan took photos of the crew without masks. I called the absence of a mask policy “foolish” and a “recipe for disaster.” CruiseRadio was the first cruise blogger to pont out that SeaDream’s no-mask policy was “irresponsible.”

In an article titled SeaDream Yacht Clubs’s Anti-Mask Policy, I wrote that SeaDream was ignoring basic health and safety protocols and common sense. As many as 20 travel writers, cruise bloggers and popular travel agents commented on Cruise Radio’s post, including the Cruise Guy (“Gotta be kidding! EVERYONE on #cruise ship should be wearing masks! . . @SeaDreamYC not requiring cruise passengers and crew to wear a mask right now is ludicrous! Come on, man!”). I asked on Twitter “how long before a #COVID19 outbreak?”

SeaDream then changed course and instituted a mask policy (see photo right). Apparently, a number of passengers on board the ship told Mr Sloan that “they signed up for this trip specifically because they were told they wouldn’t have to wear a mask, and they said they wouldn’t have taken the trip if they had known a mask-wearing requirement was coming.”

But several popular bloggers like Cruise with Ben & David, who also were on the promotional press-cruise, nonetheless effused praise on SeaDream for keeping them “so, so safe!” while other cruise fans blamed “external pressure” from “bad outside people” for forcing SeaDream to adopt a policy requiring masks.

Today, faced with the news that a guest tested positive for COVID-19,  several notable bloggers quickly already raised the obvious question. Did the absense of a mask policy (until yesterday), considering COVID-19 is a deadly, airborne virus, led to this predicatable unfortunate outcome?

It remains possible, or course, that the test of the guest today resulted in a false positive. However, the SeaDream 1 is now returning to Barbados, ending with what was initially promoted as a “watershed” moment for the cruise industry. The other guests (and crew members) will now undoubtedly be tested again.

Travel writer Dave Monk, writing for the Telegraph, reported that the vice president of SeaDream, Andreas Brynestad, was initially “bemused” by the “fuss” over face masks. Another travel writer, Sue Bryant, who was invited on the press-cruise, tweeted earlier in the cruise that she was very impressed with SeaDream’s health protocols which allegedly created a “happy bubble cruise.” A follower responded with the obvious comment that cruising during a pandemic, with or without wearing a mask, remains dangerous.

Have a question or comment? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

November 12, 2020 Update: 5 guests now tested positive for COVID-19. The remaining passengers remain in their cabins. There are around 800 comments to the tweet below, most are worth reading:

The total number of infected guests is now six, with one person reportedly taken to the hospital.

Photos credit: SeaDream I – Gordon Leggett – Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0; SeaDream 1 crew with masks  – Gene Sloan

SeaDream Yacht Club became the first luxury cruise line to resume cruises to the Caribbean when it sailed the 112-passenger – 95-crew SeaDream I out of Barbados yesterday. The ship has 52 guests aboard this weekend.

The popular Cruise Radio blog wrote about SeaDream in an article published earlier last week when it discussed the company’s new health and safety protocols. Cruise Radio explained that guests are required to post a negative test for COVID-19 before flying to Barbados. Some guests from certain countries, “likely including the U.S. due to high infection rates,” will be tested again on arrival. The guests will then be subject to a touchless temperature probe before embarking the ship and daily temperature-taking for the duration of the cruise. Passengers will then be tested four days after the ship sails.  SeaDream is offering cruises as long as 28 days, far in excess of the 7 day maximum limit mandated for ships with over 250 people by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). SeaDream has also installed new “ultrasonic” machines which are used to disinfect common areas and cabins to what is described as  “a hospital-grade level.”

But I was alarmed to read that SeaDream is not requiring the wearing of masks aboard the ship by either its crew or guests on the ship. Cruise Radio wrote:

” . . . company officials say masks will not be required to be worn on the yacht, thanks to the extensive pre-departure testing designed to create a negative ‘bubble.’”

I commented on Twitter:

On Saturday, travel writer Gene Sloan, who hosts the popular Points Guy site, tweeted photographs which he took while boarding the SeaDream I. He wrote about the experience of sailing on the ship’s very first sailing in the Caribbean, which he characterized as a “watershed moment” for the cruise industry.

The photos show Mr. Sloan wearing a mask but crew members are not. Cruise Radio accurately commented on the no-mask policy as “irresponsible.”

Over twenty other notable travel writers, cruise bloggers, travel agents and cruise fans commented on Cruise Radio’s post, including the Cruise Guy (“Gotta be kidding! EVERYONE on #cruise ship should be wearing masks! . . . @SeaDreamYC not requiring cruise passengers and crew to wear a mask right now is ludicrous! Come on, man!”), Gary Bembridge (“The protocols by various regions and mainstream lines have masks / face coverings as part of the resumption so far, mirroring the case on land”), Wave Journey (” No masks = irresponsible, and a HELL NO from us!”), Adventures w/Chris (“Seems to go against everything the other cruise lines doing. I know you test negative multiple times to cruise but the fact that CDC  wants masks on everyone this has a chance to blow away everything the industry has done to show they take it seriously . . . “), CruiseWriter (“The CEOs of cruise lines have emphasized taking the common sense precautions. The sooner that happens, the sooner we are all cruising!! As falsely accused petri dishes, cruise lines are under the microscope. As much as we hate that ignorant implication, we all need to comply!”), and @EatSleepCruise (“We are shocked the cruise line does not require staff and passengers to wear masks!”)

Other comments include:

“Wow that is mind-boggling. I hate masks as much as the next person but I know a negative test is not always 100% accurate unfortunately.”

“. . . I watched a couple other travel bloggers on this ship last week and I was appalled that no one had a mask.”

“No masks is a deal-breaker for us. Testing is not accurate enough yet to know that a negative test is 100%.”

“. . . why aren’t the wait staff and employees wearing mask? We all desperately want cursing back, but if things are going to go like they appear in the pics it’s likely disastrous for this industry even more then they are now.”

You can read several other dozen comments here.

Travel writer Dave Monk (ShipMonk) responded to the controversy. He suggested that crew members are suppose to wear masks at the terminal but are not required to do so on the ship. SeaDream also claims that its health protocols are vetted by the Barbados government, and its “medical advisors are aligned with CDC rules, the Healthy Sail Plan, and CLIA’s protocols.”

But this is hardly true. The CDC guidelines clearly require wearing of masks, on cruise ships carrying over 250 people or more. But the CDC’s conditional sail order does not apply as the SeaDream I is not calling on U.S. ports, and the CDC has no jurisdiction, which is the real point here. SeaDream does not require the wearing of masks because it is not subject to any requirement to do so.

The Healthy Sail recommended protocols, which have been adopted by CLIA, envision layered protocols which include testing, mandatory masks and social distancing at a minimum. The reality is that there will be false negative results with any testing protocol, which makes mask wearing and social distancing even more important.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA chairman and co-chair of the joint Royal Caribbean-NCL Healthy Sail panel appeared on Face the Nation, where he again advocated the wearing of masks. Dr. Gottlieb said: “. . . you need to take a layered approach. Testing alone can’t create a safe environment, a protective bubble . . .”

A fundamental part of President-elect Biden’s transition COVID-19 plan is to work with mayors and local health authorities to implement mask mandates nationwide. President-elect Biden will continue to call on “every American to wear a mask when they are around people outside their household.”

The wearing of a mask in public is a sign of caring for others rather than just for yourself.

SeaDream’s no-mask policy is a shocking display of ignorance, which places its guests and crew needlessly at risk for potentially contracting COVID-19. I predict that the company will quickly change its policy, failing which it will continue to face public ridicule and scorn on social media.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

November 9, 2020 Update: As a reader of our Facebook page said: “It’s the same old story – once you are outside US Jurisdiction they can do what they please. 😢

November 10, 2020 Update: ShipMonk updated his article and says that SeaDream “ has updated its protocols to require guests and crew to use masks on board if they are unable to socially distance.”  YouTube cruise bloggers Ben & David commented on SeaDream’s new mask policy and tweeted a photo of a letter from the company:

It seems that there is some drama taking place on the SeaDream 1. As reported by the Gene Sloan, the Points Guy, today:

“Many passengers are angry at SeaDream because of the tightened mask-wearing mandate. One passenger on Tuesday blew up at me, too, suggesting that SeaDream had changed its mask-wearing rule due to my presence on board. A SeaDream representative told me that was not the case.

Quite a few passengers on board this sailing have told me they signed up for this trip specifically because they were told they wouldn’t have to wear a mask, and they said they wouldn’t have taken the trip if they had known a mask-wearing requirement was coming.”

November 11, 2020 Update: Predictable. COVID-19 Breaks Out During “Watershed” SeaDream Cruise.

Photos credit: SeaDream I crew, without masks and, later, with masks  – Gene Sloan

For the fourth time in the last two months, a COVID-19 outbreak has occured river cruise ship in Europe. This outbreak involved the MS Thurgau Chopin (formerly the MS Frederic Chopin) river cruise ship operated by Swiss company Thurgau Travel, according to the Italian shipping publication ShipMag. (Nicko Cruises was reportedly involved in sale of the cruise).  Last Saturday (October 31th), cruise guests disembarked the river cruise ship on the Havel River in Potsdam, Germany after one of the crew members previously tested positive. The cruise company notified the local health department and assigned all 28 guests to contact level 2 (practice enhanced precautions). The health department informed the disembarking guests to contact the health departments in the their homes for further steps. So far, there are no reports that any of the guests were infected during the cruise.

Later, in a press release, Nicko Cruises states that “an infection has now been detected in 10 crew members – all of them are symptom-free and are currently in isolation on the ship. We deeply regret these circumstances and are in close contact with our partner shipping company to clarify how an infection could occur despite extensive hygiene measures.” The protocols included  “antibody and antigen rapid tests on embarkation, daily fever measurements, compulsory masks for walking routes and distance rules.”

The major cruise lines have touted new health protocols in Europe but it’s widely under-reported that have been at least 195 cruise guests and crew members infected on cruise ships on the continent. There have been three other outbreaks on river cruise lines in the past sixty days where over 80 people were infected. 60 of the 92 passengers (two-thirds) who sailed on the river cruise ship MS Swiss Crystal were infected on a cruise on the Danube and Main within the last two weeks. In early September, eight guests and crew members on a CroisiEurope river cruise ship on the Douro River in Portugal tested positive for COVID-19. Two weeks ago, German newspapers reported that at least thirteen (13) people were infected on another river cruise ship, MS Vista Serenity, on the Moselle River in Germany.

In addition, 74 people were infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships including the MS Roald Amundsen (71) and MS Finnmarken (3 with 1 death). Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises also recently experienced outbreaks on their cruise ships. Eight people were infected on the Costa Diadema and eight people also tested positive on the MSC Grandiosa.

Silversea’s Silver Spirit also had one COVID-19 cases in early September duing a Red Sea cruise.

The last COVID-19 cruise-related outbreak occurred on a Ponant cruise ship, the Jacques-Cartier, where thirteen people were infected with the virus. The ship was initially delayed leaving from an Italian port.  On its website, the Compagnie du Ponant boasted of exceptional cruises in “an anti-Covid bubble” with “its state-of-the-art health protocols.”

Germany’s renewed restrictions due to the recent surge in coronavirus cases have recently forced cruise lines to again pause operations for cruises departing from German ports. TUI Cruises’ Mein Schiff cruises (a joint venture with Royal Caribbean), as well as Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, are all suspending cruises from Germany ports. Last week, AIDA Cruises announced that it would pause cruise operations this month due to German travel restrictions.

The Italian government, meanwhile, is ordering new COVID restrictions. However, Italy will not require a lockdown and is allowing the cruise industry to continue to operate from Italian ports despite COVID on both Costa and MSC cruise ships in the past three weeks.

Here in the U.S., cruising from U.S. ports will likely not resume until February of 2021 at the earliest.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page

Photo credit: Top – MS Thurgau Chopin – Thurgau Travel; Lower – Swiss Crystal– ZVG via Blick.

Friday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted the “no-sail” order and entered a “conditional sail” order, as I expected on Friday morning.

The CDC Gives a Thumbs-Up to Cruising During a Deadly Pandemic

The order starts off by mentioning that COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly around the world with no FDA approved vaccine. As of the date of the order, over 44,000,000 people have been reported infected with coronavirus and around 1,200,000 people have died around the world. In the U.S., there have been 8,800,000 COVID-19 related cases and over 227,000 deaths. The CDC concluded that based on the evidence explained in the first four “no-sail” orders, there is “ample evidence” that cruise ship travel has the potential to exacerbate and amplify the spread of coronavirus. In fact, the CDC explains that cruise ships pose a “greater risk” of COVID-9 transmission that other settings.

Cruise Ships Exacerbate the Global Spread of the Virus

The CDC cited a study in a travel medical journal that the basic reproduction rate (R0) for COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship was an astronomically high 14.8, meaning that each person infected with COVID-19 on the Princess Cruises ship transmitted the disease to almost 15 other people. This rate was over four times higher than the rate of transmission of people in the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China. The CDC stresses that absent mitigation efforts, coronavirus transmission from one guest/crew to another on a cruise would greatly exceed transmissions in other locations.

Studies show that one reason for the heightened rate of transmission on a cruise ship is the high population density. However, drastically decreasing the number of guests and crew alone will not eliminate transmission. Other facts contributing to transmission are the crew members living and working in close quarters in a partially closed environment where social distancing is difficult.

The CDC Continues to Abdicate its Role to Washington

A federal health agency focused squarely on protecting the public’s health and safety would have easily concluded that the ban on cruising from the U.S.  should have been extended indefinitely into 2021. But it’s clear that outside political influences and an emphasis on restarting cruises at all cost undermined the agency’s ability to be guided by scientific principles and the empirical evidence itemized in the four prior no-sail orders.

In its 40 page order, the CDC set forth certain mitigation measures designed to prevent further transmission of the virus on cruise ship. You can review the details of the order here.

A couple of points about the details of the order deserve mentioning now:

The CDC envisions a “phased” approach. The CDC informed USA TODAY that the “first cruises to leave U.S. ports will be simulation sailings designed to show that ships and crews are in compliance with CDC standards and able to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 onboard.” Initially, cruise ships must “demonstrate adherence to testing, quarantine and isolation, and social distancing requirements to protect crew members while they build the laboratory capacity needed to test crew and future passengers.”

Crew Members and “Volunteer” Passengers Will be Used as Guinea Pigs

Cruise ships will be required to sail on a “simulated” or series of “simulated” voyages where “volunteer” passengers participate in “unproven and untested health and safety protocols.” The CDC is essentially requiring cruise ship employees and volunteer passengers to be used as guinea pigs to test whether the untested protocols will actually work.

Volunteers Will Not Be Representative of the Demographics of Normal Passengers

The “volunteer” passengers must obtain a written certification from a healthcare provider that he or she has “no pre-existing medical conditions that would place that individuals at high risk for COVID-19.” This is a bizarre and self-defeating requirement. A substantial portion of the typical cruise passenger demographic is elderly travelers (in excess of 70 years old). Many have underlying conditions such as heart disease, chronic lung disease and diabetes such that they are at heightened risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19. Such individuals probably will not be able to obtain the necessary written certificate that they are not at high risk. What doctors would sign such a certificate? This would cause all of the simulated cruises to involve volunteer passengers who are not representative of the heath of many people who cruise.

Will Consent Forms Contain Illegal Waivers of Liability?

Volunteers, who must be at least 18 years old, are required to sign a “consent” form acknowledging that “sailing during a pandemic is an inherently risky activity.” Health agencies rarely require consent forms which are primarily a mechanism for corporations to attempt to limit their liability from consumer claims of negligence. The question arises whether these so-called consent forms contain language exculpating the cruise line from liability. If the forms contain any type of waiver of liability which the volunteer passengers are required to acknowledge, the U.S. federal statutes prohibit the enforcement of such an agreement.

Cruise ship liability waivers violate 46 U.S.C. § 30509 which prohibits contractual provisions which attempt to limit the liability of the owner of ships for “personal injury or death caused by the negligence or fault of the owner or the owner’s employees or agents.” We handled a case around nine years ago where the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal held that a Royal Caribbean waiver of liability was invalid and unenforceable. Yet, since then, Royal Caribbean still requires passengers to sign such agreements in the hope that their guests will not understand that the forms are illegal and unenforceable. We expect that all of the cruise lines will insert such unenforceable language in the “consent” forms.

Who Will Pay for Evacuation, Hospital, Medical and Travel Costs When Passengers Become Infected?

The CDC requires the cruise lines to make arrangements with “health care entities” addressing the evacuation of guests and/or crew with COVID-19 to onshore hospitals for medical care. Cruise lines must also make “housing agreements” with “shoreside facilities for isolation and quarantine of COVID-19 cases and close contacts.” But the order is silent regarding who must pay for the cost of evacuation, hospitalization, and medical treatment of those passengers and crew members infected with the virus. The CDC also does not explain who will bear the costs of the housing, food and living expenses of those required to be isolated and quarantined.  If there is not a clear requirement that the cruise lines pay for these costs, then these costs will be the obligation of the consumer. Most health insurance policies typically do not cover shipboard medical problems, particularly during a pandemic.

Guests who find themselves infected during a cruise, or even those passengers who have to return to port early and be quarantined, will find themselves with uninsured medical, housing, and travel expenses and unable to exercise their legal rights if the anticipated liability waivers are upheld.

There is language in the “Royal Promise” drafted by Royal Caribbean for sailing from Singapore that the cruise line will “cover COVID-19-related costs up to $25,000 SGD ($20,000 USD) per person in your travel party, for onboard medical costs, cost of any required quarantine, and travel home. Royal Caribbean claims that “We’ll Never Stop Taking Care of You.” But by the very terms of the “Royal Promise,” Royal Caribbean promises that it will absolutely stop caring for those guests who become infected and require onboard medical expenses, evacuation and quarantine which exceed $20,000 USD, which is arguably not sufficient to cover such emergency expenses. The “promise” relates to only “onboard” medical expenses and does not appear to cover any “shore-side” medical expenses or hospital costs. Moreover, there is no cruise line financial obligations in the CDC conditional sail order in the first place.

Royal Caribbean misleadingly promises that “We’ll Never Stop Taking Care of You.” But it truth the cruise line will stop paying for any medical expenses the moment you leave the cruise ship where you were infected.

The CDC also requires the cruise line to notify their guests before they purchase their cruises that when a “threshold of COVID-19 is detected.” the cruise will immediately end and return the cruise ship to the U.S. port of embarkation. The cruise line must also disclose to the guests that “their their homes, may be restricted or delayed.” The CDC’s order does not define what constitutes a “threshold” level of the disease. And the CDC order does not specify who is responsible for the airfare, transportation and hotel expenses to be incurred by literally thousands of guests due to a cruise cut short due to COVID-19. It is safe to assume that the CDC envisions that consumers will also bear all costs associated with evacuation, quarantine, and travel due to a COVID-19 aborted cruise.

Foreshadowing of Things to Come – Another Cruise Ship In Europe Has a COVID-19 Outbreak

Shortly before the conditional sail order was announced on Friday afternoon, news broke that yet another cruise ships sailing from Italy experienced a COVID-19 outbreak. The French newspaper LeMonde reported that 13 people have tested positive for Covid-19 on the Le Jacques Cartier luxury cruise ship. The outbreak was covered by few travel publications or cruise bloggers which, instead, focused on the CDC’s conditional sail order. So far, there have been over 180 passengers and crew members infected on cruise ships sailing in Europe since cruising resumed in that continent.

More to Come

I’ll be discussing additional details of the CDC’s mitigation measures in more detail in the next few days. I am particularly interested in the public’s reaction to the CDC essentially requiring cruise ship employees and volunteer passengers to act as guinea pigs to determine whether unproven and untested health and safety protocols will actually work.

Have a question or comment? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo credits: CDC Logo – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Public Domain, commons / wikimedia; Port of Miami (top) –  Marc Averette – CC BY 3.0, commons / wikimedia; CDC Building – James Gathany, – Public Domain, commons / wikimedia; Port of Miami (middle) – Florida Politics; Vice President Pence, Governor DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott – AP photo / Gaston De Santis via Palm Beach Post; Medical evacuation for cruise passengers at port of Miami – CHARLES TRAINOR JR/ Miami HeraldCosta Diadema – Z thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0  commons / wikimedia; Jacques Cartier – via LeMonde.

The latest “no-sail” order (NSO) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to expire this weekend, on Saturday October 31st at midnight. There is an obvious scientific basis for the CDC to protect U.S citizens by extending the order for several months, as discussed below. The Director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, recommended last month that cruise ships be prohibited from sailing from U.S. port until  February, 15,  2021. But the White House overruled the CDC and extended the current NSO only until the end of this month, as AXIOS and the Miami Herald have reported.

The CDC will probably not extend the NSO until next year, although it clearly should do so, because of the political pressure and interference by the current administration. Yesterday Bloomberg discussed the intense lobbying being being performed by the cruise lines in Washington. Bloomberg writes that the Miami-based cruise lines have doubled the number of lobbyists they have sent to congressional offices and several federal agencies since the pandemic in order to lobby official to resume cruising this year. One of their favorites targets is the White House.

Propublica reported that the White House has essentially gutted the CDC and politicized the once renown public health agency and its premier doctors and scientists. Vice President Pence and CDC Director Redfield met in Florida with cruise executives in March. After Pence praised the industry’s “spirit of collaboration,” the chairman (former Royal Caribbean cruise executive Adam Goldstein) of the cruise industry’s largest trade group (CLIA) said, “Given the significance of travel and tourism, it is critical that Americans keep traveling.” The publication wrote that “employees watching in the CDC’s command center in Atlanta let out an audible groan . . .”

Propublica explained that CLIA had drafted a plan to hire a “global rescue team staffed by special-operations veterans” who would extract infected passengers and take them to medical facilities contracted to care for them “without burden on the U.S. government.”  Yet by April 6, the trade group didn’t hire the rescue company, and public health authorities was forced to  evacuate critically ill people from cruise ships in April. Health officials had to care for around 80,000 crew members on cruise ships in U.S. waters which further strained public health systems.

CDC officials exchanged emails stating that “poor planning by the industry, failure to adhere to recommendations and unsafe transport operations used by ships to get passengers and crew home has posed significant risks to local, state, national and international spread of the virus . . . dozens of vessels are still at sea with active COVID infections on board heading toward US waters requesting arrival in our ports.”

While the cruise lines have been meeting with their politician friends in Washington, the local Republican politicians in Florida have been working overtime to restart cruises from this state. Governor DeSantis has appeared at political rallies and stated this week that he “wants to see cruises sailing again and that he’s been in communication with the White House about how it could happen.” Senators Scott and Rubio have introduced legislation to try and bypass the CDC and permit the cruise executives greater control of health and pubic safety considerations surrounding the resumption of cruising. All of these politicians have adopted an “open the state up” mentality that has stressed business interests over issues of public health. Governor DeSantis has appeared at public political rallies without wearing a mask where he was filmed shaking hands and then rubbing his nose.

Last Wednesday, the CDC recommended that “travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide.”  The CDC issued a level 3 warning – “Avoid Nonessential Travel – Widespread Ongoing Transmission.”  Many people have suggested that this shows that the CDC is likely to renew its NSO for some period of time. My view, however, is that this is essentially a last ditch effort by the CDC to again warn the public that is unsafe to travel and congregate in bars, restaurants, night clubs and theaters, particularly on cruise ships with thousand of other guests and crew members. But it’s more likely, although not certain, that political shenanigans by the anti-science White House, which the cruise lines have lobbied for, will probably win the day.

This is perhaps the worst time possible for the White House to undermine the CDC. New COVID-19 cases are surging in the U.S. and Europe. The seven day average for coronavirus cases in the U.S. is over 74,000 following two consecutive days with cases over 83,000 (last Friday and Saturday). In the last week, there have been over 2,800,000 coronavirus cases reported worldwide and over 40,000 deaths.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA Chairman and co-chair of the joint RCL-NCL “Healthy Sail” panel said recently that the U.S. will experience a “difficult fall and winter” due to the expanding COVID-19 pandemic.  Dr. Gottlieb warned that “we’re still going to have a lot of death and disease by the end of the year.”

Dr. Gottlieb repeated his warnings yesterday and predicted that the number of cases will peak in the U.S. sometime after Thanksgiving.

Forbes reported this week that Chancellor (and scientist) Angela Merkel says that German officials have agreed to implement a four-week shutdown of restaurants, bars, theaters and clubs in hopes of containing coronavirus outbreaks that have led to a rapid rise in cases this month in Germany and throughout Europe.” France has instituted similar restrictions to combat the out of control virus.

Gene Sloan, the popular All Points Guy, reported yesterday that “new lockdown measures in Germany and France this week in the wake of soaring COVID-19 cases have forced at least a half-dozen ocean and river cruise lines to cancel sailings across the continent since Wednesday.” German line AIDA Cruises said yesterday that it would cancel all voyages through the end of November. Costa Cruises also cancelled a number of upcoming cruises, including sailings out of Italy to ports in Italy, France and Spain.

The major cruise lines have touted new health protocols in Europe but it’s widely under-reported that have been over 170 cruise guests and crew members infected on cruise ships on the continent. There have been three outbreaks on river cruise lines in the past two months where over 80 people were infected. 60 of the 92 passengers (two-thirds) who sailed on the river cruise ship MS Swiss Crystal were infected on a cruise on the Danube and Main within the last two weeks. In early September, eight guests and crew members on a CroisiEurope river cruise ship on the Douro River in Portugal tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, German newspapers reported that at least thirteen (13) people were infected on another river cruise ship, MS Vista Serenity, on the Moselle River in Germany.

In addition, 74 people were infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships including the MS Roald Amundsen (71) and MS Finnmarken (3 with one death). Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises also recently experienced outbreaks on their cruise ships. 8 people were infected on the Costa Diadema and eight people also tested positive on the MSC Grandiosa.

Gene Sloan reported just this morning that there is a COVID-19 outbreak on a Ponant cruise ship.

It is clear that confidence in cruising will continue to erode as more and more cruise ships experience coronavirus outbreaks:

Canada recently announced the extension of the ban on cruising until February 28, 2021. Cruising is also still not permitted from ports in the U.K. according to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office which advises against cruise ship travel. Meanwhile, Princess Cruises suspended cruises in Australia and New Zealand through the end of May 2021 due to the pandemic.

Cruise executives are nonetheless claiming that their cruise ships are “totally safe” (Costa), “absolutely safe” (NCL), “safer than main street” (RCL), or “safer than any type of holiday” (MSC). But there is a disconnect between what the cruise lines are touting and the reality that it is dangerous to travel during a surging pandemic.

Chances are that the CDC will not extend the NSO which will expire tomorrow. The White House and the cruise industry’s friends in Washington will make certain that does not happen. So we are likely to all see the cruise lines restart sailing this year from U.S. ports, even though countries in Europe are prudently shutting down and the cruise lines are reconsidering their decisions, albeit momentarily, to continue cruising overseas.

But this will be a deadly mistake. Unfortunately, outbreaks will occur on cruise ships notwithstanding the so-called “100% testing.” Of course, there is no such thing as 100% certainty in obtaining an accurate test result (whether it’s a false negative or a false positive) anymore than a cruise executive can honestly promise that a cruise will be “totally” or “absolutely” safe.

The worst thing that can happen to the cruise industry is not for the NSO to be again renewed. The decision to end the NSO will be rightfully viewed as a political favor by the White House to the foreign incorporated cruise lines and their foreign flagged cruise ships. But if and when guests and crew members again become infected and have to undergo quarantines or evacuations at sea, the confidence of the public in cruising will be further eroded. The political favor will backfire. The next administration may not be inclined to undermine the scientific communities in order to jump start the economy. If cruising reopens prematurely and then is suspended again shortly after the first significant outbreak during a cruise, no Caribbean nation will open its ports to allow an infected ship from Miami to dock. Few consumers will think that it’s prudent to cruise.

The cruise industry will not recover if it restarts operations in the U.S. and the CDC, under a more science-friendly administration, quickly shuts down for public health considerations on an emergency basis. The cruise executives should be careful of what they wish for.

Have a comment or question? Please leave one below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Update:

USA TODAY: “CDC: ‘Conditional Sailing Order’ allows cruise lines to sail Nov. 1 with some strings attached . . .  Says Royal Caribbean Cruises executive Richard Fain: “We do believe it is possible to make it that you are safer on a cruise ship than you are on “Main Street.”
You can read the conditional sail order here.

Photo credit: Port of Miami – Marc Averette – CC BY 3.0, commons / wikimedia.