Numerous news sources are reporting that the first cruise ship to sail in Alaska during the COVID-19 pandemic experienced a positive case of COVID-19 yesterday. KTOO reports that the Wilderness Adventurer, operated by Uncruise, left Juneau last Saturday on a one week cruise with 36 guests and 30 crew members aboard the small cruise ship.

KTOO states that:

“All passengers were required to get tested for COVID-19 before traveling to Alaska and boarding the boat. According to the City and Borough of Juneau, a passenger got a call after the ship left Juneau notifying them of the positive test result. According to UnCruise, that passenger was tested five days before the trip and had arrived with a negative test result in hand. It was a second test at the Juneau airport that showed the passenger was positive.”

The city and borough of Juneau explained that the ship will return early to Juneau tomorrow morning. The ship informed the other 35 guests today and asked them to restrict themselves to their cabins until the ship returns to Juneau. “All guests will quarantine at a local hotel and the crew will quarantine on the vessel in port at Juneau.”

 

Small cruise ship company UnCruise Adventures confirmed today a guest has tested positive for COVID-19 (bit.ly/3ilkBvt)….

Posted by City and Borough of Juneau on Tuesday, August 4, 2020

You can read the cruise company’s press release here. You can review UnCruises’ COVID-19 protocols here. You will note that the protocols do not include COVID-19 testing of passengers.

There are over a hundred comments to the city of Juneau’s Facebook post (above). There appears to be a consensus that it is irresponsible to cruise during this pandemic. One commenter said that this “small and intimate” style of cruising  equates to potential transmission of coronavirus. “Unpopular during a pandemic. Unsafe. Unbelievable that they put so many at risk and risked Juneau’s population. Very Uncool.” Another remarked: “100% irresponsible by the Uncruise line & port! Anything to make a buck including possible lives lost. But hey, I’m sure every passenger will enjoy their extended stay. Unbelievable.”

Others questioned why the guests will be let off the ship tomorrow and permitted into Juneau. “Why in the holy hell” is the city  “allowing them to disembark? Quarantining at a local hotel exposes essential workers…..AGAIN!! It’s a damned cruise ship…a floating hotel!! Let them stay on it!! Unless they need medical care, they should be quarantining on the vessel!! Stop importing Covid into our community.”

One person summed up the news: “That didn’t take long.” Another said: “Saw that coming.”

This news follows news reports yesterday that a prior guest who sailed in Norway on the SeaDream I tested positive for COVID-19.  This resulted in all 126 passengers being ordered to remain in their cabins.  Unlike this case, the Norwegian authorities are prohibiting the passengers (as well as the crew) to go ashore and they will undergo tests on the ship to avoid infecting the local villagers.

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Photo Credits:  James Brooks / ADN) via Anchorage Daily News

A massive fiery  explosision near a waterfront, industrial section of Beirut, Lebanon killed over 70 people and wounded around 4,000 earlier today.  A video (below) of the blast, which was broadcast around the world, showed a large fire with smaller explosions followed by a horrific explosion which reportedly destroyed buildings far from the blast site.

The huge blast significantly damaged the Orient Queen cruise ship, which was located near the explosion at the port of Beirut. Photographs taken by a correspondent of Al Jazerra of the damage to the port include the cruise ship listing significantly at her berth at the port.

The Bahamian-flagged cruise ship is owned and operated by locally-owned Abou Merhi Cruises.

Local officials blamed the explosion on the storage of ammonium nitrate, which are highly explosive materials, which was stored in a warehouse in the port for the past many years. There is also speculation that the explosion was intentionally set.

FR24 News reported that several people aboard the ship moored near the site of the explosion were injured and taken to hospital.

“The ship is totally destroyed – the cabins, the saloon, everything,” said Vincenco Orlandini, a 69-year-old crew member.

Al Jazeera reported that “at the port, a man in the all-white uniform of a boat crew, stained with blood,” wandered near the Orient Queen whoseinterior was blown out, it was sloped sideways onto the quayside.”

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Orient Queen – Timour Azhari Twitter @timourazhari; video – CNN.

August 3, 2020 Update:

According to the popular Crew Center:

“Philippine Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, confirms with a heavy heart that two Filipinos died from the explosion. Another eight Filipinos suffered from injuries, one of them is in critical but stable condition, while the rest sustained minor injuries.

Two of those injured are currently recuperating at the Embassy Chancery after receiving treatment from a hospital. They are part of a group of 13 Filipino seafarers whose ship was docked some 400 meters away from the blast zone. The other eleven (11), as of this reporting, have been reported missing.”

There are also posts on Twitter regarding injuries to crew members who are suffering and need medical assistance. There are also tweets showing that the Orient Queen has sunk at the port:

Crew Member Aboard Viking Star Tests Positive for COVID-19

A crew member aboard the Viking Star (right) reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 according to the NRK newspaper in Norway. The newspaper states that it “is unclear where the person became infected.” The person in question took a test, which was negative, in his home country before leaving for Norway.  The crew member joined the cruise ship on July 17th and was then quarantined in his cabin for 14 days. After ten days on board the cruise ship, the person was tested again for corona which was also negative. The employee then started work. When he started to feel bad, he was ordered to take another test, which showed that he is infected with covid-19. The person was tested on board and now is isolated in his cabin. There are 105 crew members on the ship, which has not yetresumed operations. All 105 on board the boat must now be tested for the virus.

Guest on SeaDream 1 Tests Positive – Over 100 Passengers & Crew Quarantined

A guest aboard the SeaDream 1 (top) tested positive for COVID-19 resulting in all of the remaining passengers being quarantined on this ship which is operating near Norway.

Over one-hundred passengers on the SeaDream 1 have been ordered to stay in their cabins after a guest on the previous cruise tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home to Denmark, according to the Aftenposten and VG newspaper in Norway. The newspaper spoke to one of the 123 passengers on board the current cruise who stated that the ship left Tromsø two days ago. “After we were ashore in Henningsvær early yesterday, we were told that we will not go ashore anymore. Then we anchored up in Nusfjord, before we came here to Reine.” Local hospitals are making arrangements to test the 85 crew members for COVID-19 on the ship.

The local municipality, Bodø, is not permitting the crew or passengers to go ashore, according to the mayor.  Local and national official in Norway are taking the situation seriously. At a press conference last Friday, the national minister of health said that the government of Norway is tightening the rules for cruise ships, so that passengers on ships with more than 100 people on board are no longer allowed to go ashore. This order was entered after the COVID-19 debacle with the Hurtigruten expedition ship, the M/S/ Roald Amundsen, where 36 crew members and at least 8 guests tested positive. The guests were among the 387 passengers on the last two cruises on the contaminated ship. The last group of 176 passengers were permitted to disembark the ship in Tromsø after a guest and 4 crew members of the 158 ship employees on the ship initially tested positive for COVID-19. 32 additional employees tested positive. More positive test results for the guests are expected.

COVID-19 Positive Crew Members Cases on Costa Cruises, AIDA and TUI Group/Mein Schiff Cruise Ships

As we previously reported, in the last two weeks ten crew members employed by AIDA Cruises tested positive for COVID-19 and five crew members working for TUI / Mein Schiff tested positive which required the cancelation of a cruise on the Mein Schiff 1. Three Costa crew members on the Costa Favolosa and Costa Deliziosa tested positive this last weekend.

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Photo Credit: Viking Star – Pjotr Mahhonin – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; SeaDream 1- Halvard Alvik, NTB scanpix via Aftenposten; Hurtigruten’s M/S/ Roald Amundsen – VG

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

Costa Favolosa and Costa Deliziosa Crew Members Test Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 20, 2020 Update: According to the Norwegian press, a total of 71 people now reportedly infected with COVID-19 on the Hurtigruten MS Roald Amundsen. 29 passengers and 42 employees were confirmed positive with COVID-19 by the Norwegian National Institute of Public Health. The figures had been justed upwards after people who first tested negative, later tested positive. The ship has been isolated at the quay in Tromsø since the outbreak at the end of July. (translation via Google translate).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten AIDA Cruises Crew Members Tested Positive for COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUI / Mein Schiff – Full Speed Ahead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruise Fans Accuse the CDC of Picking on the Cruise Lines

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

More Contact Tracing Than All Airline Outbreaks Since the Pandemic Began

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

Cruise Lines’ COVID-19 Response Plans Incomplete and Inadequate 

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

Substantial, Ongoing Failure to Comply with the CDC

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

The CDC found that numerous cruise ships were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exacerbation of Spread of An Already Highly Infectious Disease

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

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

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

CDC: Cruise Ships Pose Higher Risk of Infection Than Cities

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

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

The Cruise Industry is Continuing to Struggle With COVID-19

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

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

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

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