According to numerous news sources, Royal Caribbean’s  Quantum of the Seas has a COVID-19 case aboard the ship. The captain reportedly announced the news late last night (video below). The cruise ship ship is now returning to Singapore where the guests and crew will be quarantined.

The cruise was touted as allegedly creating a an anti-COVID “bubble” cruise from Singapore. A reporter from the New York Times reported on a similar cruise from Singapore which, like the Quantum of the Seas, did not call on any ports and operated at a fraction of the maximum quest capacity.  Singapore also requires passengers take a coronavirus test before boarding, which has been a major selling point for taking a cruise during this deadly pandemic.

The positive COVID case was first reported by Cruise Critic, which pointed out the obvious shortcomings with Royal Caribbean’s PCR tests which passengers were required to take within 48 to 72 hours before boarding, but not at dockside immediately before boarding.

The cruise line has been talking about its so-called “strict health and safety protocols” which  it developed with the Singapore Tourism Board. I have commented on the Royal Caribbean “Healthy Sail” protocols which I opined were destined to fail.

A newspaper in Singapore, the Straits Times, reports that the Quantum will carry a maximum of up to 2,000 guests during the pandemic, half of its usual total capacity of slightly under 5,000 passengers. There were reportedly less than 2,000 guests aboard during this cruise. Mask wearing was mandatory on board the cruise ship and passengers were required to wear a mobile application tracing device with them at all times.

Cruise fans blog predictably down-played the COVID-19 case, which so far has involved only one guest, an 83 year-old man. The Royal Caribbean blog, for example, quickly published an article titled Royal Caribbean’s Enhanced Health Protocols Catch Positive COVID-19 Case on Cruise Ship. A common comment by people wanting to cruise during these dangerous times is this shows that “there are systems in place working to detect and manage outbreaks . . . ”

Royal Caribbean stated, in part:

“We worked closely with the government to develop a thorough system that tests and monitors all guests and crew and follows public health best practices. That we were able to quickly identify this single case and take immediate action is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to do.”

The last COVID-19 outbreak occurred several weeks ago on the SeaDream 1 ship which also promised a safe “bubble”  with multiple pre-boarding COVID tests, reduced capacity and temperature tests. That case involved a much smaller ship with only around 120 crew and guests. It was expected to be a watershed first cruise from the Caribbean since the pandemic shut cruising down last March. Initial reports were that a single guest had presumptively tested positive for COVID-19. Later it was confirmed that a total of nine people (7 guests and 2 crew members had been infected).

Unlike the U.S. and parts of Europe which are facing out of control COVID-19 cases, Singapore has few cases. (Cruises are open only to residents of Singapore). There have been 58,273 confirmed cases of COVID and 29 COVID-related death in the past nine months. There have been only 13 cases in the last day, 55 new cases in the last week and only 219 cases and one death in the last month, according to the Johns Hopkins’ data. Singapore has a population of around 5,400,000 people.

This is to be sharply contrasted with the COVID statistics in the U.S. where there are over 15,000,000 cases and over 280,000 deaths and there have been over 1,000,000 news cases in the first five days of December.

Check back tomorrow when we learn further information.

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Update: Royal Caribbean is quoted in Seatrade Cruise News as saying that the ship will “debark guests after a review of contact tracing is completed.” So no further testing or quarantine? A reader of our Facebook page commented: “Close contacts tested negative. That would be today. Try again in like a week and it might be different. Ship of fools.”

The Straits Times reports:

“In a health advisory issued to cruise passengers, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said the Covid-19 case’s contacts will be placed on quarantine or health surveillance. Other people on the ship will be required to monitor their health for 14 days from the date of disembarkation and undergo a swab test at the end of the monitoring period.

‘During this period, you may continue with your usual activities including going to work or school,’ the MOH said.

Royal Caribbean will contact passengers from a week after disembarkation with the details of their swab appointment at a designated government swab site, and MOH said it will bear the cost of those tests.

Ms. Angie Stephen, managing director for Asia-Pacific at Royal Caribbean International, said the ship is finalising the contact tracing process then it will get clearance from the MOH to debark guests.

‘Those who are not close contacts of the confirmed case will be allowed to debark and take a rapid antigen test as per original procedure. They can then go home and will be advised to monitor their health for the next 14 days. After that, all guests will take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test with the expense borne by Royal Caribbean,” she added.

The guest who tested positive for Covid-19 and other people in the travelling party will get a full refund. Royal Carribean will offer a pro-rated cash refund for the day missed at sea, and any remaining on board credits will be refunded to guests as well.

Additionally, the cruise operator will also provide a day’s worth of Future Cruise Credit for use on future trips.”

December 9, 2020 Update:

According to the Singapore government, the guests who tested positive for the virus “has since been re-tested at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), and has come back negative for COVID-19 infection. A second fresh sample tested by NPHL has also come back negative. NPHL will conduct another test tomorrow to confirm his COVID-19 status.”

The subsequent test results suggests that the first test may have been a false positive and his symptoms were merely coincidental. But the different tests results reinforces my belief that COVID tests results are not accurate or reliable enough to avoid either false positive or false negative results. The fact remains that cruise travel and the congregating of crowds in bars, restaurants, casinos, clubs and theaters on cruise ships should be avoided.

Photo credits: Quantum of the Seas – Frank Schwichtenberg – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia; SeaDream 1 – The Points Guy/Handout via Reuters/New York Post; video – Straits Times.

Today the Government of Australia extended the ban against cruise travel to a minimum of three months:

Newspapers across Australia report that Australians are restricted from overseas travel or cruise ship holidays for at least three more months as the government extends the biosecurity ban imposed at the start of the pandemic.

The ban was due to expire on December 17, 2020, but today health Minister Greg Hunt said that the ban would be extended until at least March 17, 2021 as COVID-19 rages around the world. He stated that cruising during the pandemic provides an “unacceptable public health risk.”

Australia imposed a ban last March after the the Ruby Princess debacle, which resulted in 28 deaths and at least 854 cruise passengers contracting COVID-19.

The extension of the ban, ironically enough, comes as Australia reached a milestone today – with just one active locally acquired infection remaining nationwide. However, the government prudently focused on the international COVID situation which remains challenging and dangerous. “Australia won’t be fully safe until the international community is safe,” Mr. Hunt said.

Meanwhile in the U.S., there have been over 1,000,000 people infected with COVID-19 in just the first five days of December. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the FDA and current member of the Royal Caribbean-NCL joint “Healthy Sail Panel,” predicts as many as nearly 4,000 COVID-related deaths per day in January 2021. He anticipates as many as 400,000 deaths by the end of January 2021. The CDC Director, Robert Redfield, predicts an even higher number of deaths, at 450,000 by February of 2021.

The U.S. has nearly 15,000,000 COVID-19 cases, the highest number in the world. Over 284,000 people in the U.S. have died. Tthere are well over 15,000,000 people in the world who have died due to COVID. Last month, under pressure from the White House and after extensive lobbying by the cruise industry’s trade group, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced a conditional sail order. I anticipate that the new administration will reconsider reinstating a “no-sail” order, possibly requiring all cruise travelers and crew members to be vaccinated before they can board a cruise ship at a port in the U.S.

CLIA-Australia lobbied unsuccessfully for Australia to lift the cruise travel ban. It proposed creating a so-called protective “bubble” with testing of all guests and crew, daily temperature checks, reduced ship occupancy and a 14-day post-cruise quarantine among other measures. Leading epidemiologists in Australia state that the safety measures would “reduce risk” but “not eliminate it completely.”

There are a number of cruise fans that seem nonplussed by the risks associated with cruise travel. A cruise travel agent in Sydney even started a change.org petition to resume cruising in Australia.

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Photo credit: James D Morgan/Getty Images via the Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princess Cruises Discharges Scrubber Sludge in Alaskan Port

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

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

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

The Latest Number of Infected

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

No Contact Tracing on the Flights From Barbados

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beach Guarded by Armed Police  

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

Contact Tracing in St. Vincent

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

Just How “Successful” Have European Sailings Really Been?

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Drawing Board?

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

Here’s a hint:  No, its not.

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

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Photos: SeaDream 1 – SeaDream Yacht Club.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 14, 2020 P.M. update:

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

Top photo credit: Gene Sloan, the Points Guy.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I commented on Twitter:

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

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

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

Other comments include:

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

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

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

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

You can read several other dozen comments here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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