In an effort to convince the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it’s safe to resume sailing from U.S. ports, cruise lines, travel writers, cruise bloggers and the industry’s trade organization have resorted to falsely understating the actual number of positive COVID-19 cases that have occurred outside of the U.S.

Yesterday afternoon, Norwegian Cruise Line’s CEO Frank Del Rio was interviewed on the popular stock show MAD MONEY hosted by  Jim Cramer. He excitedly touted NCL’s alleged “ironclad” health and safety protocols which Del Rio claims makes a NCL cruise ship the “safest place on earth.  Mr. Del Rio has engaged in this hyperpole before. Last May, before NCL had a single health protocol,  he publicly claimed that cruise ships were “safer than anywhere else in the world” and urged the CDC to “stop immediately” all COVID related restrictions. Several hundred thousands of U.S. citizens died since then. He suggested that cruise ships in Europe and Asia have carried “over 400,000 guests with less than 50 COVID cases.” He added that “other cruise lines handled all of the cases with grace. No cruises interrupted or cancelled midway.”  As explained below, these assertions are patently false.

Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain repeated the erroneous CLIA information just last week.

The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) initially published the false data.  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 travel writers and cruise bloggers repeated CLIA’s false talking points. Travel writer and cruise blogger Dave Monk (right) cited the CLIA erroneous  data in comments on Twitter, in an effort to resume cruising, including tweets to travel writer Dana Freedman.

The cruise fan blog Royal Caribbean Blog also regurgitated the false industry data in an article today – “nearly 400,000 passengers have already sailed from Europe and parts of Asia since last summer” with “fewer than 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 onboard.”

The Royal Caribbean Blog also wrote that Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has had over “50,000 guests sail onboard with zero positive Covid-19 cases to date.” This may be true but it is more of a reflection of cruising out of Singapore, which the article doesn’t mention. Local residents of the country of Singapore which, remarkably, has zero new cases of local transmission of COVID-19  (and only 30 deaths in the last year). Only citizens of Singapore are permitted on Royal Caribbean sailings from that country.  Singapore’s success is in stark contrast to the U.S. data with over 555,700 coronavirus deaths and over 30,800,000 COVID19 infections so far (based on data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center).

Travel Weekly, Cruise Radio, Cruise Industry News  and numerous other travel writers and popular cruise bloggers repeated the misleading information from CLIA. Several cruise bloggers like Cruise Hive and Royal Caribbean Blog directed cruise fans to write to elected officials to urge the CDC to drop its restrictions, based in part on CLIA’s erroneous claim that there were less than 50 COVID cases outside of the U.S.

This assortment of cruise lines, cruise executives, industry leaders and travel writers have consistently understated the true number of COVID-19 cases by over 75%  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 truth is that there have been around 214 passengers and crew members who tested positive for COVID-19 on sailings since cruising was suspended from U.S. ports last year. The cases involved MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, TUI Group/Mein Schiff, AIDA, SeaDream, Hurtigruten and a number of smaller river cruise ships.

Notwithstanding health protocols invariably described by the cruise companies as “rigorous” and allegedly creating a “safe bubble,” there were four outbreaks on river cruise lines from September through November of 2020 where at least 99 people were infected and numerous cruises were cancelled. 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. 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. 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 (where 71 were infected) and MS Finnmarken (3 infected with 1 death) and cruises were cancelled. Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises also recently experienced outbreaks on their cruise ships. Eight people were infected on the Costa Diadema (above left) which advertised “rigorous protocols” and a “totally safe cruise.” One person 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-Cartierwas 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.” 

Four guests tested positive for COVID on the Mein Schiff 2 in February of 2021. Five crew members tested positive for COVID on the Mein Schiff 1 in July of last year. Ten AIDA crew members tested positive last July as well.

The most widely reported recent COVID debacle involved a COVID outbreak last November on the SeaDream where 7 guests and 2 crew members were infected. SeaDream Yacht Club cancelled the cruise from Barbados and discontinued all cruising to this day.

The cruise industry has ben prone to make false statements to the public in order to sell cruises. Early last year, the Miami New Times and the Washington Post published articles revealing that NCL publicly down played the pandemic and pressured its sales team to understate and misrepresent the reality of COVID-19.  Read: Leaked Emails: Norwegian Pressures Sales Team to Mislead Potential Customers About Coronavirus by Miami New Times March 11, 2020 (“The Coronavirus can only survive in cold temperatures, so the Caribbean is a fantastic choice for your next cruise,” was one NCL talking point to prospective customers).

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

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May 9, 2021 Update:

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.” (according to data collected by the CDC.

June 10, 2021 Update: Since this article, there have been reports of ten to eleven additional COVID-19 cases on cruise ships for a current total of 224 to 225 cases:

  • Asuka II – passenger positive for COVID (total 215);
  • Costa Smeralda –  passenger positive for COVID (total 216);
  • Odyssey of the Seas – 4 (per Royal Caribbean) or 5 (per news outlets) crew members positive or COVID (total 220 or 221);
  • MSC Seaside – 2 passengers positive for COVID (total 222 to 223); and
  • Celebrity Millennium – 2 passengers positive for COVID (total 224 to 225).

To be continued . . .

Photo credits: CEO Frank Del Rio – Jim Cramer’s MAD MONEY April 5, 2021; Costa Diadema – Z Thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0 commons / wikimedia;  “Totally Safe Cruise” – Costa Cruises – By Z thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0 wikipedia / commons,