Four Royal Caribbean crew members on the Anthem of the Seas reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, according to the popular Crew Center website.

Crew Center reported the positive test results this evening, after the Royal Caribbean cruise ship arrived in Greece for loading of provisions and for the crew to receive vaccinations, scheduled for today and tomorrow. Royal Caribbean disembarked the four ship employees in the port city of Piraeus and reportedly suspended the vaccinations. Here’s what Crew Center reported:

“Starting today the crew onboard Anthem of the Seas will go in a so-called modified quarantine after four crew members tested positive for COVID-19 on the recent PCR test. According to our source, the 4 crew members disembarked the ship today.

Anthem of the Seas arrived in Piraeus, Greece for loading and for the crew re-vaccination, scheduled for today and tomorrow. (The crew apparently have apparently already received the first of their two vaccinations on May 22, 2021).  Our source said that due to the latest test results the vaccination was postponed. Tomorrow all crew will be tested once again in order to proceed with vaccination.

Anthem of the Seas’ captain made an announcement on the ship’s PA system saying:

“In an effort to keep you all safe starting now we will be implementing ship-wide modified quarantine for all crew for the next 48 to 72 hours. This means all crew are requested to go, and remain in your cabin, except to go to restaurants for daily meals. Social distancing will be strictly enforced. Please contact your manager or supervisor for a working schedule and mealtime. Smoking will be allowed on the balcony. Crew in crew cabins please use outside smoking areas after mealtime in a limited short visit. For more detail information will be sent to you. Crew PCR test is scheduled for tomorrow. It is utmost important that you contact the nurse on duty to report any symptoms, and do not leave your cabin.”

The Anthem of the Seas is scheduled to begin sailing to the U.K. from its new home port in Southampton with fully vaccinated passengers and crew members.

It seems unusual for crew members to be quarantined for only 2 or 3 days, as Crew Center reports.

There was a crew change between the Anthem of the Seas and the Odyssey of the Seas in Cyprus toward the end of May, after the Odyssey left Israel. When the Odyssey was sailing through the Atlanta before crossing the Atlantic, as many as five crew members tested positive for COVID-19 and were disembarked to an ambulance ashore in Palma de Mallorca.

After the Odyssey has arrived in the U.S. to begin cruises from Port Everglades on July 3rd, eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19 after being tested on June 10th. Royal Caribbean disclosed the positive results on June 15th. Two of the crew members were symptomatic. Royal Caribbean then places the other 1,400 crew members on quarantine and postponed sailings on the Odyssey until July 31st.

The four COVID-19 positive crew members on the Anthem of the Seas brings the total number of Royal Caribbean ship employees who tested positive in the last four weeks to seventeen (17). Including the two passengers on the Celebrity Millennium, there has been a total of nineteen (19) people on cruise ships owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises who have tested positive during this time period.

This brings the total number of positive COVID-19 cases since the cruise industry was shut down last year to 237. You can read about the prior cases here.

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Image credit: www.GlynLowe.com CC BY 2.0, commons / wikimedia.

This week, an” independent not for profit news website,” the Dorcet Eye, posted a short video showing a cruise ship docked in the Isle of Portland, in Dorset U.K., belching pollution from its emission stacks. (Portland is just south of the resort of Weymouth, forming the southernmost point of the county of Dorset, England approximately 150 miles southwest of London).

The Dorcet Eye posted the video on its YouTube page, under the title “Cruise liner at Portland Port choking the locals.” The website described the video as follows:

“A cruise liner docked at Portland Port in Dorset spewing fumes across the bay. Why is it not fined? Who is allowing this to happen? Locals reporting feeling nauseous whilst out sailing or windsurfing . . .”

Jim Ace, of the environmental group Stand.Earth and a member of Global Cruise Activist Network (GCAN), brought the disturbing video to our attention. It appears that the cruise ship is a MSC Cruises ship, although we were initially uncertain of the name of the cruise ship. MSC Cruises has been heavily promoting cruises around the British Isles aboard the MSCVirtuosa. A review of the ship’s itinerary and news articles confirm that the MSC Virtuosa has called on the port of Portland in the recent past and is scheduled to return to this port in the near future.

We posted the video and a photo of the polluting ship on Twitter and requested an explanation and from MSC and the local port, without success.

The MSC Virtuosa is a new cruise  ship which was delivered from the shipyard to MSC in early February. The MSC cruise ship entered service on May 20th with a series of three and four-night cruises from Southampton, before beginning seven-night cruises around the British Isles on June 12th.  

The MSC Virtuosa is supposedly equipped with an exhaust gas cleaning system (i.e., a scrubber) designed to reduces ship sulfur emissions. This system have been heavily criticized, and appropriately so, as essentially turning air pollution into water pollution. Read Smoke and Mirrors: Cruise Line Scrubbers Turn Air Pollution Into Water Pollution.

BBC News published an article titled Why the cruise industry is still navigating choppy waters which included a photograph (right) of the MSC Virtuosa which shows white smoke from the ship’s stacks, which are characteristic of the operation of the ship’s scrubbers. (You can see this clearly in a photo of the ship’s stacks posted here, here and here on Cruise Capital’s Twitter page).

The video (below) clearly shows a long, black plume billowing from this ship, which raises the obvious questions: Did the ship’s engines malfunction? Were the scrubbers, for what they are worth, operational? Were the scrubbers bypassed for some reason at the port?

Let’s see how MSC publicly responds, if it does.

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Video credit: Dorset Eye

Multiple sources are reporting that eight crew members employed by Royal Caribbean Cruises aboard the Odyssey of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19. According to a press release from the cruise line,  the crew members tested positive on June 10, 2021, six days after the ship arrived in the U.S. after sailing from Israel. Media reports indicate that Royal Caribbean states that two employees were symptomatic, with what the cruise company describes as “mild symptoms.”

Previously, as the Odyssey of the Seas was sailing through the Mediterranean Sea, as many as five crew members tested positive for COVID-19 (Royal Caribbean claimed that only four crew members tested positive for the virus). At the time of the news, the cruise ship was anchored off the coast at Majorca Bay, Mallorca, Spain. A Spanish newspaper carried the headline styled “Five Positive Crew Members of the ‘Odyssey of the Seas’ are Transferred to Clinic in Palma” On May 24, 2021, Royal Caribbean  disembarked the crew members in question in Palma de Majorca where they will went quarantine at a private clinic. The Spanish newspaper’s Twitter feed stated that Royal Caribbean had left them on the island and tracking services showed the Odyssey sailing toward Gibraltar.

We reported on this incident last month. For reason not clear to us, none of the other news sources are mentioning the previous five crew members from this ship who tested positive just seventeen earlier.

The new Royal Caribbean cruise ship had previously been sent to Israel to begin cruises from that country. However, in mid-May, the cruise line cancelled cruises from Haifa, Israel, ostensibly because of violence between Israel and Palestinians.

Royal Caribbean initially intended to have its crew on the Odyssey vaccinated while the ship was in Israel, although the Israeli press reported in April that this was never approved even though the planned cruises from Haifa were imminent. The Odyssey then sailed to Cyprus where there was a crew transfer of unvaccinated crew. My opinion remains that taking a leisure cruise during a pandemic is dangerous, and that this cruise line has delayed taking appropriate steps to protect its crew members and future guests from becoming infected and risks spreading the virus into Caribbean port communities.

Regarding the most recent outbreak, Royal Caribbean stated that the eight crew members arrived in the U.S. on the ship on June 4, 2021. At the time, 1,400 crew on board received COVID tests which apparently were negative. Subsequently, they crew members were vaccinated. The crew were tested again and tested positive on June 10, six  days after the cruise ship arrived in the U.S. after sailing from Israel.

The positive COVID-19 test has caused Royal Caribbean to delay the first revenue cruise from July 3rd to July 31st, according to Seatrade Cruise News.

This brings the total number of positive COVID-19 cases since the cruise industry was shut down last year to 233. You can read about the prior cases here.

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Photo credit: Main photo – Royal Caribbean via USA Today; top – Royal Caribbean via Travel Pulse.

As everyone knows by now, yesterday two guests tested positive for COVID-19 during the recent cruise of the Royal Caribbean owned Celebrity Millennium from St. Maarten, notwithstanding the fact that the cruse line require 100% of the adults (but not children) to be vaccinated and also required negative test results before boarding.

The infected guests apparently (according to guests aboard the ship who have contacted us) have to remain in a hotel once the ship returns to St. Maarten until their test results are negative. It is unknown whether the two infected guests require medical treatment, although the cruise line’s media reports stress that they are asymptomatic. I imagine that they will then fly home when they receive their negative test results, wherever that might be.

The question naturally arises who will pay for the costs of the medical treatment (if any) and international travel back home?

These questions should be asked by any family thinking of taking a cruise during the ongoing pandemic, whether they are vaccinated or not.

The conditional sailing orders (CSO) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) require (for cruise leaving from U.S. ports) that cruise line submit proof of the companies’ agreements with port authorities that they have arranged housing for the quarantine of guests, as well as arrangements for medical treatment of the infected.  The cruise lines, or course, have not produced copies of the agreements to the public or otherwise clearly disclosed who will be responsible for paying  for any necessary medical treatment their guests require off of their ships, or for the costs of their guests flying back from wherever they are quarantined.

Of course, the CDC’s CSO’s apply only to cruising from U.S. ports, so there are no such agreements that the cruise lines have to make for cruises leaving ports in the Caribbean, such as the Celebrity Millennium which left from St. Maarten. But the issue nonetheless exists who pays when cruise guests test positive during a cruise?

A Royal Caribbean ship, the Adventure of the Seas, left the port of Nassau today. This is another cruise where 100% of the guests (except children) are suppose to be vaccinated. I understand that Royal Caribbean also required negative COVID tests before the guests boarded the cruise ship.

I am reading lots of comments on Twitter and Facebook from cruise fans who express their excitement about finally returning to cruising. Some brought their unvaccinated kids aboard the cruise ship today.  How many of them have inquired what will happen if they or their close contacts test positive  for COVID-19? Will they be quarantined off the ship? Who will pay for their  medical expenses off the ship and who will pay for their flights home?

Regarding medical expenses, homeowner’s insurance policies typically exclude coverage for liabilities on ships.  Most medical insurance does not cover illness or injuries outside of the U.S. And many policies of travel insurance exclude coverage for illnesses related to pandemics. The last thing that a family wanting to spend a relaxing week at sea wants is to think about potentially incurring uninsured expenses for repeat testing and medical treatment required off of the ship and flights to get their families home.

So today I asked Royal Caribbean via Twitter these basic questions. I quickly received a pleasant response: “Onboard our ships the health and safety of our guests is our top priority” followed by this response:  “this means there are certain and specific protocols in place to avoid this from happening aboard our ships. In the event this was to happen, certain instructions and protocols would be given once you’re onboard.”

So What Are Royal Caribbean’s Legal Obligations?

In considering the contractual obligation owed by a cruise line to a guest, courts look at the terms and condition of the cruise ticket and related documents prepared by the cruise company. Most cruise lines typically deny all responsibility for medical expenses related to shipboard illnesses and injuries.

Based on the terms and conditions set forth in Royal Caribbean’s cruise tickets and internet site, it appears that the cruise line may be able to avoid paying for all of the medical expenses incurred off of the ship and most of the flights back home.

Sources of Information

There are three sources of information which a guest needs to read and understand regarding this issue. First, there are terms in the cruise line’s “Healthy Sail Center.” Secondly, there is the ROYAL CARIBBEAN GROUP REFUND* AND CANCELLATION POLICY FOR COVID-19 (caps in original). Thirdly, there is Royal Caribbean’s “Cruise/Cruisetour Ticket Contract.”

Medical Expenses on the Ship – Yes; Off the Ship – No:

I know that at one point Royal Caribbean stated in the terms and conditions of its cruise ticket for its cruise from Singapore, for example, that it will pay up to $20,000 for medical expenses incurred by a guest on the cruise ship. Of course, Singapore has virtually no community spread of COVID cases. And cruises from Singapore are limited to citizens of that country. So its not much of a risk to guarantee payment of shipboard medical expenses where all of the guests are from a country with no COVID exposure. Shipboard medical expenses are unlikely to ever reach that amount in the first place.

For Caribbean sailings, such as from the Bahamas, the shipboard medical care is free on the ship, but not ashore either if the guest is quarantined on a Caribbean island or when they return home.

The Healthy Sail Center information includes this initial language regarding medical expenses: “Onboard SARS-CoV-2 evaluation and testing that is performed on recommendation of the onboard medical team is free of charge. COVID-19-related medical treatment provided onboard, should treatment be necessary, is also free of charge.” But there is no such responsibility for COVID evaluation and treatment when its required off of  the ship, either during a quarantine during the cruise or after the guest return home.

Of course medical care on the ship is limited. Guests can reasonably assume that anyone who becomes acutely ill will be transferred off of the ship. This is where the problems begin. Medical treatment in Caribbean ports of call is also limited, particularly during this pandemic, and very expensive. Hospitals in the Caribbean typically require upfront payments. Guests should prepare to turn their credit cards over in order to receive treatment. No insurance company back home in the U.S. will reimburse these expenses.  It is also questionable whether a guest’s medical insurance will cover intensive care treatment, ventilators and expensive medicine and therapies if the guest contracts COVID at sea outside of the U.S. and become ill.

Uninsured medical expenses for medical care in the U.S. which is needed to severe COVID infections contracted on a cruise ship could be catastrophically high.

Airfare Back Home – Watch Out For the Fine Print!:

Royal Caribbean will pay for some guests’ airfare back home but not for all guests, largely depending on whether the guest booked their flights through the cruise line. The language in the Healthy Sail Center (which is arguably not part of the contract between the cruise line and guest) states in general terms:

“If you test positive for COVID-19 during the cruise, Royal Caribbean will cover the costs of COVID-19 related medical treatment onboard, any required land-based quarantine, and travel home for you and your Travelling Party” (defined as “your family members living with you in the same household and travelling companions assigned to your stateroom on the cruise”). The Healthy Sail Center also says: “Royal Caribbean has developed transport protocols to ensure impacted guests get home safely.”

But this broad language is narrowed by the fine print in the terms and conditions of the ROYAL CARIBBEAN GROUP REFUND* AND CANCELLATION POLICY FOR COVID-19 which obligates the cruise line to pay the airfare for guests who tested positive for COVID only if the guest “purchased flights through the cruise line.” But for guests who handled their own flights, the cruise line “will not be responsible for any associated costs” (such as “airline change fees and any difference in the airfare”).

This is a perfect example of a popular saying by Tom Waits — ‘The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.’

Royal Caribbean’s Catch-All “Obligation to Comply with RCG COVID-19 Policies and Procedures”

The cruise line’s “ROYAL CARIBBEAN GROUP REFUND* AND CANCELLATION POLICY FOR COVID-19” contains language permitting the company to deny paying for or providing assistance “of any kind” when it determines that guest failed “to comply with the RCG COVID-19 Policies and Procedures in effect at the time of the cruise.” It is less than clear exactly what these policies and procedures may be. In light of the fact that the company recommends its quests to become vaccinated, does a passenger risk forfeiting all of the rather limited payments and assistance by ailing to become vaccinated?

The Bottom Line: Guests who booked their own flights and require medical treatment ashore and back home are largely on their own

Forbes recently reported that:

Only half of Americans (50%) are confident that the cruise industry can reopen safely coming out of the pandemic, according to a recent Harris Poll Covid-19 tracker survey fielded May 26-28 to 1,999 U.S. adults . . . When asked whether they were confident that various industries could keep customers safe, respondents rated the cruise industry dead last . . .”

Providing gobbledygook responses to legitimate questions posed regarding the health and safety of cruise passengers and the economic consequences of testing positive for COVID or becoming ill at sea is not the way to bolster consumer confidence.

One would think that any family thinking of taking a cruise during a pandemic would check and double check the details of the cruise line’s policies and protocols (and the fine print) and know exactly what will happen and the financial consequences if they or other guests on the ship test positive for COVID.

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Image credit: Master0Garfield – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.

As the U.S. based cruise industry is trying to resume operations, two passengers aboard the Celebrity Millennium tested positive for COVID-19 today. The cruise ship supposedly has a 100% vaccinated crew of around 650 and 600 passengers (except for children). The Celebrity Millennium left from the port of St. Maarten.

I first learned of the positive cases from a tweet from @CruiseGuy on Twitter who appears to be on the cruise ship, along with other cruise commentators:

Celebrity issued a press statement that: “all guests on Celebrity Millennium were required to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before sailing.” The company is now “conducting contact tracing, expediting testing for all close contacts and closely monitoring the situation.”

Once this news broke on social media, the usual cruise cheerleaders immediately attempted to down-play the significance of the positive COVID-19 cases on the Celebrity ship. Twitter quickly turned into an ugly scrum:

Recent COVID-19 Cases On Cruise Ships

There have been a steady number of COVID-19 cases outside of the U.S. primarily involving European cruises in the last month, with the Asuka II and Costa Smeralda each having a passenger test positive for COVID during the first week in May. The Odyssey of the Seas experienced as many as 5 (per news outlets) crew members test positive for COVID on May 24th, and the MSC Seaside had two unrelated passengers test positive earlier this week.

The two cases on the Millennium bring the total to around at least 225 positive COVID-19 cases since the cruise industry stopped sailing in the U.S. last year.

Cruise Lines Have Disclosed Only 22% of COVID-19 Cases On Cruise Ship Outside of the U.S. Since Last March

Unfortunately, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) initially published false and misleading information that there were only “less than 50 cases” during this time period.  In a March 24, 2021 press release aimed at convincing the CDC to drop its Conditional Sailing Order, CLIA said that “nearly 400,000 passengers sailed over the last eight months in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific with fewer than 50 COVID cases.”

Many cruise CEO’s, travel writers and cruise bloggers repeated CLIA’s false talking points and continue to do so to this day. The CruiseGuy downplayed the positive COVID-19 cases by repeating the “less-tham-50-cases’ myth in a tweet just today:

This assortment of cruise lines, cruise executives, industry leaders and travel writers have consistently understated the true number of COVID-19 cases by over 77%, disclosing “less than 50” out of around 225 cases.  Our firm has meticulously followed the number of positive COVID cases on cruise ships since last summer involving passengers and crew members based on news reports, primarily from Europe and the Caribbean which are based on cruise line press releases, public health authorities and witness accounts. The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group/Mein Schiff, AIDA, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships.

You can read a detailed analysis of the cases in our article: Cruise Lines Continue to Misrepresent Number of Positive COVID-19 Cases During Cruises Outside of the U.S.

In its legal briefing in the litigation initiated by the state of Florida against the CDC, the federal health agency filed a summary of the cases outside of U.S. ports and arrived at a similar number of COVID cases with this analysis.

The Cruise Lines’ Understating of the True Number of COVID-19 Cases Leads to a Fundamental Distrust of Cruise Lines

It is essential to the cruise lines that they regain the trust* of the public if the industry’s is going to successfully return to sailing. But the public is right to view cruise line promises with suspicion. The cruise line’s talk of having “ironclad” health protocols and “safe cruises bubbles” appear doubtful when the cruise lines, CLIA and cruise supporters consistently understate the actual number positive COVID cases outside of the U.S.

Confusion at Sea

The state of the cruise industry is currently a chaotic, confused mess. There is no consistency between cruise lines whether to require vaccinations, which is obviously the only way to cruise. The Florida governor is threatening to sue any cruise business which prudently inquires into the vaccine status of their own customers. From the cruise lines’ wild complaints about the CDC’s conditional sailing orders to the misguided lawsuit filed by Florida against the CDC claiming that the federal health agency somehow has no authority to regulate the health and safety of cruise passengers during a deadly pandemic – prudent consumers should come to a healthy pause and think whether cruising during a deadly pandemic is, perhaps, a bad idea.

Forbes interviewed me earlier this week and I posted this prediction:

“‘I’m not sure what will happen first,’ says Walker. ‘Judge Merryday ruling against the state of Florida and upholding the right of the CDC to enter Conditional Sailing Orders? Or a Covid outbreak on a cruise ship, which returns to a port in Florida with its tail between its legs?'”

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June 11, 2021 Update:

There are a number of travel writers on the cruise to discuss one of the first cruise in the last year from North America. Here’s one review by a cruise fan writer, @SlyJabroni, for the popular Points Guy. So what information do you learn? The cruise line gives away sparkling wine, chocolate, free internet & free on demand movies, & delivers “hot beautifully plated and delicious” dinner to quarantined travel writers via room service.

One readers of this blog who is on the ship commented:

“I asked what will happen to the ill passengers when we reach St. Maarten in two days — we have a sea day tomorrow — and I was told that they will have to disembark, go straight to a hotel and stay there until they return negative test results.”

The question naturally arises: who will be responsible for the costs of the housing, medical services and transportation home? Celebrity and parent company Royal Caribbean have not disclosed their agreements with port authorities regarding the procedures for the quarantine, housing, and medical treatment for infected guests and their close contacts, or their transportation home or who will pay for these expenses.

Whether they realize it or not, Celebrity and the other cruise lines are doing themselves a disservice by not disclosing this basic information. They are effectively creating an image that they are not transparent regarding important matters of the health & safety, as well as the economic well-being of their guests.

Image Credit – Celebrity Millennium – IanKAus – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons /wikimedia.

*Forbes recently reported that:

“Only half of Americans (50%) are confident that the cruise industry can reopen safely coming out of the pandemic, according to a recent Harris Poll Covid-19 tracker survey fielded May 26-28 to 1,999 U.S. adults . . . When asked whether they were confident that various industries could keep customers safe, respondents rated the cruise industry dead last, behind everyday businesses such as retail stores (82%), restaurants (80%), movie theaters (63%) and sports and concert venues (59%). Notably, consumer confidence in the cruise industry’s ability to keep passengers safe also lags well behind other travel subcategories such as hotels (79%), airlines (69%) and amusement parks (63%).”

Newspapers in Italy are reporting that there are reports of two people who tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the MSC Seaside. The newspapers state that two passengers tested positive for the virus.

Informazione and Lasicliaweb report that the positive test results came during a routine check after the ship sailed from Italy. The country of Malta refused the MSC ship permission to dock because of the positive test results. The cruise ship then disembarked the two passengers and an undisclosed number of their family members ashore in Syracuse, Sicily. Subsequent reports, including by the Washington Post, explain that the infected passengers “were not traveling together on the MSC Seaside.”

According to these articles, MSC claims that “all passengers must undergo tests or be fully vaccinated in order to be admitted to boarding.”

Last October, there was a confirmed case of CIVD-19 aboard the MSC Grandiosa.

In addition, the MSC Gransdiosa sailed on a seven-day itinerary which left Genoa on October 11th of last year. There were several reports that after calling on Palermo, the MSC ship sailed to Valetta, Malta. However, the Maltese maritime authorities denied the vessel permission to port and disembark guests for an shore excursion due to a suspected case of coronavirus among the crew members, according to Ship MagMalta Ship News reported that the ship entered Valetta’s Grand Harbour and left port the same morning without discharging any passengers.  The ship then sailed back to Genoa.

There is no mandatory reporting of COVID on cruises leaving European ports. Most accounts of COVID-19 which during cruises in Europe are from the local press.

MSC so far has made no public statement regarding this latest number of cases.  There is no explanation by the company why its policy of a vaccination or a test didn’t work.

It is currently advertising, via Twitter, “unleashing your sense of discovery” by traversing “the sunny and historic Mediterranean aboard the MSC Seaside.”

The last COVID-19 outbreak on a cruise ship occurred toward the end of last month when at least two crew members on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Maltese newspaper CBE News. Another newspaper reports that there were five crew members who tested positive for the virus, although Royal Caribbean stated that there were only four crew members infected.

With these two positive COVID-19 cases on the MSC Seaside, there have been at least 220 to 223 cases of COVID-19 on cruise ships sailing from European ports since cruising stopped from U.S. ports last March.  We explained this in our article titled Cruise Lines Continue to Misrepresent Number of Positive COVID-19 Cases During Cruises Outside of the U.S. (there were 214 cases at this time).

The cruise industry’s trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), initially released patently false information that there have been “less than fifty (50) cases of COVID-19 on sailing outside of the U.S. involving over 400,000 cruise passengers.”

Several cruise executives have continued to perpetuate the false information started by CLIA and often add in other dubious claims (such as: a NCL cruise ship is allegedly the “safest place on earth” because of the cruise line’s “ironclad” health and safety protocols” via NCL’s CEO Frank Del Rio). Numerous travel agents, travel writers and cruise bloggers, in turn, have added to the misleading narrative. We have carefully documented each COVID-19 case on a ocean and river cruise sailing from a port outside of the U.S. since the U.S. cruise industry stopped sailing last March.

Governor DeSantis’ legal team is using the false “there’s-less-than-50-COVID-cases-in-Europe” argument in its legal briefs in the pending lawsuit filed by the state of Florida against the CDC. We suggest reading: Cruise Lines’ Claim that Cruising in Europe and Asia Has No Or Only Limited Transmission of COVID-19: “Not An Equivalent Comparison to the U.S.” (based on CDC information).

“Safe Bubble Cruise?” 

MSC touts what it calls a “safe bubble cruise” with its so-called “stringent MSC Cruises Health & Safety Protocol.” The protocol includes:

“The original test results certificate or vaccination certificate must be presented at the terminal (paper or electronic format) in order to embark on the ship. The certificate must be in English, Italian, German, French or Spanish and must contain: guest’s personal data (verifiable with the other travel documents), date of the test, identification / contact details of the centre that performed the analysis, technique used and negative test result.”

So the question arises – what went wrong on the MSC Seaside?

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Image Credit: Top – MSC Seaside leaving the Port of Miami – Yanjipy – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; Lower – MSC Seaside – giornaleradio.fm.

 

Last week, the Economist asked the question in the title of its article about excessive corporate compensation – Will Shareholders Halt the Inexorable Rise of CEO Pay?  Today, a clear majority of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings shareholders in what is called a “say-on-pay” vote, gave a big “thumbs down” to the company’s plan to pay its CEO Frank Del Rio $36,400,000 million for 2020, according to a Miami Herald article published this afternoon.

Herald Reporter Taylor Dolven wrote “in a rare rebuke, 83% of shareholders did not approve the company’s executive compensation in a non-binding vote” today. The newspaper cited Luis Navas, an executive compensation adviser, describing the vote as “incredibly embarrassing.”

Yes, its should be embarrassing, but that assumes this cruise executive is capable of feeling shame. Even before the pandemic, CEO Del Rio was the poster child of a spoiled, overpaid cruise executive in an industry where companies incorporate in places like Liberia (Royal Caribbean) and register their cruise ships in places like (Panama) and the Bahamas (NCL) in order to avoid all U.S. income taxes and wage and labor laws.

In March, we wrote about CEO Del Rio’s obscenely high compensation during a year when NCL laid off thousands of crew members and shoreside employees, in an article titled Stock Awards During a Deadly Pandemic?  NCL’s CEO Frank Del Rio Rakes in $36,400,000 in 2020 While Crew Members Struggle.

Not only was he the highest paid cruise executive, but CEO Del Rio was also the most persistently disrespectful of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the most likely to mock the CDC’s COVID-19 related health and safety protocols.

CEO Del Rio is by far the highest paid cruise executive in the world. In the last three years alone, Del Rio took home over $76,000,000 in income. Including his 2015 income of $31,900,000, he collected over $108,000,000 for four years, including $22,590,000 in 2018, $17,808,000 in 2019,and $36,400,000 in 2020.

In 2018, Del Rio’s compensation of $22,590,000 was over one thousand times more than the median wages of a NCL crew member who earned an annual income of a little less than $17,000 according to information submitted to the SEC by NCL. A NCL median employee was defined in SEC filings as a “full-time employee located on one of the NCL ships with an annual total compensation of $16,925 for 2019.”  This resulted in a compensation ratio between CEO Del Rio and a median crew members of “1,052 to 1” for 2018, according to the SEC filing.

Considering that the average crew member in 2020 probably collected only around $4,000 until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its first no-sail order in March, CEO Del Rio’s $36,400,000 results in a compensation ratio with a median crew members of well over 9,000 to 1.

Last year, NCL suffered a net loss of $4,000,000,000 (billion) compared to net income in 2019 of $930,200,000. As of December 31, 2020, NCL had total debt of $11,800,000,000 (billion) and cash of only $3,300,000,000. NCL is facing a cash burn rate of $190,000,000 a month,

As the Miami Herald points out, it’s no wonder that 83% of NCLH shareholders voted against the huge executive pay.  But that still leaves 17% of shareholders who thought that the compensation was somehow reasonable and justified. The shareholder vote is non-binding on the corporation’s directors. I would expect this cruise executive to to fight to keep every penny of his excessive compensation.

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Image credit: CNBC

At least two crew members on Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Maltese newspaper CBE News. At the time of the news, the cruise ship was anchored off the coast at Majorca Bay, Mallorca, Spain. The ship is now heading to Gibraltar on her way back to the state of Florida

In a short article, CBE News explains that the two ship employees who tested positive for COVID-19 were initially isolated in their cabin (singular in original article). Royal Caribbean planned to disembark them in Palma de Majorca where they will undergo quarantine at a private clinic. The newspaper’s Twitter feed states that Royal Caribbean has left them on the island; tracking services show the Odyssey sailing toward Gibraltar.

Another newspaper reports that there were five crew members who tested positive for the virus, although Royal Caribbean stated that there were only four crew members infected. The newspaper reports that “once in the port of Palma, Foreign Health personnel will make a first assessment of the infected crew members and later they will be transferred by ambulance to a private hospital, where they will be quarantined.”

Infocruceros, which also reported five crew to be infected, states that the outbreak aboard the Odyssey of the Seas “puts at risk what was considered until now imminent reopening of Spanish ports to international cruise ships, renews the bad image of cruise ships having been on the cover of several national newscasts, and returns to put into question the protocols and the responsibility of Royal Caribbean that has starred in several outbreaks in ships supposedly quarantined during this long pandemic.”

The Odyssey of the Seas has been in the news for the past couple of months. Initial reports indicated that the ship was going to sail from Haifa, Israel on short cruises to Limassol, Cyprus starting in June. The company was also scheduled to begin three and four night cruises to Rhodes and Mykonos, Greece starting in September.

Ten days ago, as Israeli-Palestinian violence escalated, we reported that the Odyssey of the Seas was cancelling her sailings from Israel this summer. We also learned from crew members on the ship that it was being repositioned (from Cyprus where it initially sailed from Israel) to Florida. (The ship recently stopped briefly in Civitavecchia, Italy, after leaving Cyprus). Royal Caribbean had still not obtained the necessary approvals from the Israel’s health ministry, according to several news stations in Israel, when it cancelled its sailing from Israel. It does not appear that these crew members were ever vaccinated, even though they were suppose to be part of the all vaccinated crew who would be on the Odyssey of the Seas sailing from Israel next month.

With these two to five positive COVID-19 cases, there have been at least 218 to 221 cases of COVID-19 on cruise ships sailing from European ports.  We explained this in our article titled Cruise Lines Continue to Misrepresent Number of Positive COVID-19 Cases During Cruises Outside of the U.S. (there were 214 cases at this time). Since the article and before this latest news, there were two more COVID-19 cases involving NY Cruises and Costa cruise ships (bringing the total to 216).

The cruise industry continues to misrepresent its experiences with COVID-19 while sailing in Europe and in Asia (primarily Singapore). The cruise industry’s trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), initially released patently false information that there have been less than fifty (50) cases of COVID-19 on sailing outside of the U.S. involving over 400,000 cruise passengers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that this information is “not an equivalent comparison to the U.S.

The cruise industry is stating that most lines intend to resume sailing from U.S. ports this summer. However, few companies have made the necessary agreements with ports, housing authorities and medical providers (as required by the CDC) to transport, house and provide medical treatment for guests who become exposed to the virus during the initial cruises from the U.S.

When cruises resume, it is certain that there will be additional guests and crew members who test positive for COVID-19. We will continue to keep track of the cases.

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

 

Yesterday, Carnival Cruise Line executive Christine Duffy stated that her cruise line doesn’t plan to require COVID-19 vaccination for guests. The comments were made during a television interview with NBC’s Lester Holt and were first reported on Seatrade Cruise News.

Ms. Duffy defended Carnival’s absence of a vaccine requirement for passengers, commenting “There’s no mandate for any other business to have that requirement.” The CDC has indicated that cruise ships can resume sailing without first conducting simulated test cruises provided that 98 percent of crew members and 95 percent of passengers are fully vaccinated (and the companies satisfy the other conditional sailing requirements).

Ms. Duffy also stated that “. . . I think that’s where we have the challenge of working through the details because, for our cruise line, children under 12 are a big part of the cruise experience in a summer, you know a family vacation, and as it stands right now, we wouldn’t be able to have kids under 12 on board.”

Readers of Cruise Law News’ Facebook page expressed feelings ranging from surprise to confusion to disappointment over the Carnival Cruise Line president’s comments. Most cruise lines, including Carnival’s rivals in Miami like Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruises, have announced that they will require passengers to be fully vaccinated (Travel & Leisure and The Points Guy have excellent summaries of all cruise lines which require vaccinations at this point).

Here are a few of the comments posted on our Facebook page regarding Carnival’s no-vaccine requirement.

  • “Is this mandatory for crew and, if so, why different for paying passengers? Or is this rather a decision to generate much needed revenue for Carnival?
  • Having no vaccine at all with a virus that can change so rapidly in a cruise ship environment is surely a potential for serious consequences.
  • So … instead CCL is willing to chance infections and shut down be cause of a few….. guests! SAD
  • A very bad decision and huge gamble by Carnival.
  • Carnival just threw themselves to the bottom of the heap. Actually, this is great for all the anti-vaxxers: gives them ships to cruise on. This way, they can’t complain the cruising industry shut them out. Meanwhile, we will sail on the other cruise lines that require vaccinations for everyone.
  • This is such silly and blatant pandering to the MAGA and antivaxers. Carnival knows their flagship brand passengers and they know the median bargain hunters aren’t always the most educated.”

There was also a fair amount of criticism on Twitter of Carnival’s no required vaccine policy for guests and Ms. Duffy’s claim that no other businesses have such a mandate:

The first nine months of the pandemic demonstrated that many cruise fans believed that COVID-19 was a hoax or greatly exaggerated and would eventually disappear. Many of these types still do not believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is real despite over 587,000 dead and almost 33,000,000 positive COVID-19 cases in the U.S. (not to mention over 163,000,000 cases and 3,400,000 dead around the world due to COVID-19) per the John Hopkin’s Coronavirus Resources Center.

Although I am not aware of data specifically addressing this issue, my hunch is that Carnival Cruise Line has the most customers who are COVID-19 deniers or fall within the anti-science or anti-vaxxer crowd.

Carnival Cruise Line has obviously made the business decision to cater to its customers and not follow the 100-percent-of-our-customers-must-be-vaccinated policy à la NCL.

Ms. Duffy also said during the brief NBC News interview that Carnival is trying to resume operations in July and is currently continuing its discussions with the CDC toward that goal. It remains to be seen how Carnival expects to restart cruises (without having test cruises) if it cannot verify that at least 95% of its passengers are fully vaccinated.

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

Photo credits: NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

The lawsuit and related motion for preliminary injunction against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources filed by the state of Florida (which Alaska and Texas have joined) have, in my opinion, virtually no chance of success.

A preview of how the federal judge, Steven D. Merryday, views the issues will come as early as tomorrow morning when the federal court in Tampa convenes a hearing on Florida’s motion for preliminary injunction. The issue has been fully briefed by the parties. The federal judge presiding over the case will decide the initial issue of whether the state of Florida is entitled to the extraordinary relief it seeks – that a federal health agency should somehow immediately be stripped of its traditional duty to place health restrictions on the international cruise industry which is trying to resume operations during the ongoing deadly pandemic.

My review of the CDC’s memorandum in opposition to Florida’s motion for preliminary injunction, which you can read here, indicates that there is little chance that the federal court will rule that the CDC’s authority should be limited by Florida, much less on an emergency basis as Florida requests.  As the CDC’s memorandum explains, “the United States remains in the midst of a once-in-a century pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans  and three million people worldwide. (According to John’s Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center as of today there have been over 582,000 deaths in the U.S. and over 3,307,000 deaths in the world due to COVID-19).  Early in the pandemic, several deadly outbreaks were clustered on cruise ships, like the Diamond Princess in Japan, and the Grand Princess in the San Francisco Bay. These outbreaks required vast expenditures of government resources to evacuate, quarantine, isolate, house, and treat passengers. These experiences demonstrated that cruise ships are uniquely suited to spread COVID-19, likely due to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods, and other factors.”

No Cruise Lines Have Intervened in the Lawsuit, Nor Have They Submitted The Necessary Agreements with Port, Medical or Housing Authorities

As the CDC points out, none of the cruise lines have sought to intervene in the pending lawsuit. All of the cruise lines are working in partnership with the CDC through the phased approach to resuming cruising. Currently, the industry is in Phase 2(a), in which “cruise ship operators build additional testing capacity and negotiate agreements with port and local health authorities in each jurisdiction in which they intend to dock to ensure that these local authorities agree that any outbreaks can be safely managed.” Although the CDC’s initial conditional sailing order dated October 30, 2020 required the cruise lines to submit proof of agreements with port, medical and housing authorities to provide accommodations and medical treatment in the event that cruise passengers become infected by or exposed to the virus, no cruise lines to date have complied with this requirement. As the CDC explains:

“The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that cruise operators have pre-arranged with port authorities how operations and outbreaks will be handled during the pandemic – e.g., that if a cruise line’s outbreak plan is to shunt thousands of potentially infected passengers onto a small community in Alaska that does not have housing or medical facilities, the cruise line must have the local authority’s consent to do so and must have made arrangements for adequate housing and care.

The CDC cites three primary reasons why the Court should deny Florida’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

1.   The State of Florida (and Alaska and Texas) Lack Legal Standing 

First, the state of Florida lacks legal “standing” to bring the lawsuit in the first place.

As we pointed out in our article titled “Governor DeSantis’ Lawsuit Against the CDC – “A Craven Political Stunt Pandering to Cruise Lines,” the losses incurred by the cruise lines due to the pandemic and the halting of cruise ships are not losses incurred by the state of Florida. In every lawsuit, the person or entity who brings the lawsuit must have actually suffered the harm in order to have legal standing.  In other words, you can’t sue if your neighbor is injured. Here, there’s no basis for a state to assert a  legal case by referring to the financial losses of corporations which chose not to incorporate in Florida but incorporate outside of the state in places like Panama (Carnival), Liberia, Africa (Royal Caribbean) or Bermuda (NCL) and register their ships in Panama and the Bahamas in order to avoid all U.S. wage and labor laws.

The only losses which Florida has possibly incurred are “reemployment assistance benefits” which Florida says are $20,000,000 paid to “6,464 former cruise industry employees” and, arguably, lost tax revenue associated with cruise ship operations estimated to be $82 million. These alleged and speculative figures are largely “de minimis” figures in any event, considering that Governor DeSantis “has recommended a Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget of $96.6 billion.”

” . . . Florida speculates that lost tax revenue associated with cruise ship operations might be $82 million. Johnston Decl. ¶ 5.12 But in a state with a Chief Executive that has recommended a Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget of $96.6 billion, the amount at issue is roughly 0.085% of the state’s budget.”

2.   Florida Unreasonably Delayed Claiming That The CDC’s Order Irreparable Harmed It 

Secondly, the state of Florida unreasonably delayed seeking to prohibit the CDC from restricting cruise operations.  The CDC argues that Florida “sat on its supposed rights for well over a year while cruise ship operations were restricted. It cannot now establish that irreparable harm would be prevented by letting cruise ships resume operations slightly more quickly than CDC believes is necessary to protect the public’s health.” The idea of a preliminary injunction is premised on the need for speedy and urgent action to “protect a party’s rights before a case can be resolved on its merits.”  Florida seeks to preliminarily enjoin the CDC from enforcing its conditional sailing order, but it “offers no explanation why it waited nearly six months after the temporary emergency order was issued” (October 1, 2020) to seek judicial review.

The CDC makes a compelling case that Florida not only waited too long to bring legal action, but it failed to establish that it suffered actual “irreparable harm” which would justify the “extraordinary and drastic remedy” of a preliminary injunction,

3.   Florida Can’t Establish A Likelihood That it Will Prevail On the Merits

Thirdly, it is entirely questionable that Florida can establish a “likelihood of success on the merits of its claims.” Considering that the CDC has the authority and responsibility of enacting protocols which are reasonably designed to fight this pandemic which has infected 32,756,000 U.S. citizens and killed over 582,000 Americans, this is an area traditionally reserved for health decisions at the discretion of the federal government. Long before cruise ships sailed, the federal government has exercised jurisdiction in protecting Americans from international viruses coming ashore by ships.

Obviously, local state and city health inspectors do not have jurisdiction to board and inspect vessels engaged in international sailings. This is exclusively the jurisdiction reserved to federal agencies like the CDC. The lawsuit and motion represent a rank attempt by state politicians, who have demonstrated contempt for the federal government and who have refused to comply with the CDC’s health protocols, to replace the experience and scientific reasoning of experienced CDC officials with their own politically influenced opinions which potentially adversely affect the lives and health of U.S. citizens.

The Federal Government Has Traditionally Protected the U.S. Public Health

The Public Health Service Act (“PHSA”) has long been shown to consolidate and codify the federal government’s “basic authority to make regulations to prevent the spread of [communicable] disease into this country or between the States.” The Federal statute authorizes the CDC “to make and enforce such regulations as in [the Secretary’s] judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the States or possessions, or from one State or possession into any other State or possession.”

The CDC points out that there is a long history of  the federal government combating the spread of communicable disease, including the regulation of vessels in interstate and international travel. Congress enacted the first federal quarantine law in 1796. Following a subsequent yellow fever outbreak, Congress replaced this federal act with a federal inspection system for maritime quarantines. Nearly a hundred years later, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to adopt additional regulations to prevent the introduction of disease into the United States or across state lines where the Secretary considered state or local regulation inadequate.

The lawsuit makes the extraordinary allegation the federal statutes and regulations do not empower the CDC to “make or enforce regulations that suspend the operations of cruise ships . . . ” Of course, this is a preposterous assertion. Over the years, the CDC has entered “no sail orders” when hundreds of passengers and crew became ill with norovirus or other gastrointestinal illnesses. Back in 2011, one of the most notable incidents involved the CDC shutting down the Celebrity Mercury (since sold) which was sailing out of Charleston, South Carolina. After three consecutive norovirus outbreaks which sickened literally thousands of guests and crew members, the CDC finally prohibited the cruise ship from sailing and further harming the public by entering a strict “no sail” order.

Cruise Ships Are Uniquely Different Than Other Industries

Florida argues that the CDC supposedly treats the cruise industry differently from other other industries.  But the CDC has proven “that cruise ships are unique.” The CDC’s prior orders “found markedly higher transmission rates on board cruise ships than exist in other settings; crew and passengers live onboard for prolonged periods of time in enclosed spaces in which social distancing is challenging at best . . .”

A common comment left on our Cruise Law News Facebook page is that the CDC “treats travel by airplane differently than by cruise ship.” But there is a world of difference. There’s no comparison between the potential viral exposure during a short flight from Atlanta to Miami (less than 2  hours) or from New York (less than 3 hours) with the fresh air via airplane ventilation systems which include HEPA filters where you travel with just 100 other passengers or less – versus a week long cruise to the Caribbean (168 hours) with thousands of passengers and crew members from around the world congregating while eating and drinking in bars and restaurants and visiting ports with few local people vaccinated.

The CDC filed a declaration of a senior CDC official, Captain Aimee Treffiletti, who “explains that contract tracing required for cruise passengers in early 2020 was far greater than that for air passengers during the same time frame, and that cruise ships have unique conditions on board that exacerbate transmission.” Treffiletti Decl. ¶¶ 21-22, 76. Florida argues “that a cruise ship is like an airplane or a hotel, but offers nothing in support of that opinion. according to the CDC which concludes  that “the data contradicts (the) unfounded claim  . . .”

Captain Treffiletti also established that contrary to CLIA’s false claim that there have been less than 50 COVID-19 cases on cruise ships sailing from Europe since the pandemic, there actually have been over 200 COVID cases, as we discussed last week (77% more than CLIA admits).

Hearing Tomorrow – Stay Tuned

Judge Merryday will entertain oral argument tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. There does not appear to be a way to listen to the argument remotely. The issues for the trial court’s determination are all fully briefed by the parties; there will be no live testimony, just argument by the lawyers.

My prediction? Hard core cruise fans and the usual travel writers and cruise bloggers will howl in protest, claiming that the judge is somehow biased against the cruise industry, when he denies Florida’s request to interfere with the CDC’s health protocols.

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

Photo credits: Top – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Carnival Cruise Line ships – Jim Walker; Ambulance attending to Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas – Robert Madison Walker.