Last Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that “travelers defer all cruise travel worldwide.”  The CDC issued a level 3 warning – “Avoid Nonessential Travel – Widespread Ongoing Transmission.” The CDC stated that “Cruise passengers are at increased risk of person-to-person spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported on several cruise ships.”

“Recent reports of COVID-19 on cruises highlight the risk of infections to cruise passengers and crew. Like many other viruses, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily between people in close quarters aboard ships and boats. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, there remains a risk of infected passengers and crew on board cruise ships.”

As we reported last week,  cruise lines often tout European cruise ships as proof that cruising can be conducted in a safe manner despite the coronavirus pandemic. But the truth is that there have been over 100 guests and crew members infected with COVID-19 on cruises in Europe, including 74 infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships: MS Roald Amundsen (71) and MS Finnmarken (3 with one death), 8 people on the Costa Diadema, 8 on the Vasco da Gama river cruise ship, one on the Silversea Silver Spirit, and 13 (so far) on the Vista Serenity river cruise ship operated by tour operator AVista Reisen.

There are a record number of COVID-19 cases in Europe. Costa Cruises is now blocking passengers from France and other countries with COVID-19 infection rates higher than Italy’s, according to Seatrade Cruise News. However, Costa is ignoring the fact that Italy is now experiencing an unprecedented number of new cases of coronavirus.

The CDC’s warning comes at a time when there is a surge in the U.S., as well as in Europe, of new COVID-19 cases. This weekend, the U.S. reported more than 83,000 coronavirus cases two days in a row (Friday and Saturday) with a record seven day average of over 68,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, co-chair of the RCL-NCL joint “Healthy Sail” panel, warned this weekend of an approaching “difficult winter.” “We are likely to see a very dense epidemic,” Dr. Gottlieb told CNBC on Monday. “I think we are right now at the cusp of what is going to be exponential spread in parts of the country.”

The CDC is urging that all people defer all travel, including cruise ships, including river cruises, but other means of travel.  Travel by plane, train, or bus also increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. The CDC states that “airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. These are also places where it can be hard to social distance. In general, the longer you are around a person with COVID-19, the more likely you are to get infected.”

The CDC’s latest no-sail order expires on October 31st. If scientific prudence, rather than political partisanship, pevails then the no-sail order will be extended. It has been widely reported that the CDC was set to extend the last no-sail order until February 15, 2021, but was overruled by Vice President Mike Pence.

It is reckless for the cruise industry to continue to pressure the CDC to lift the no-sail ban in light of the record number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., which follows the trend in Europe.

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Photo credit: Costa Diadema – Z thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0  commons / wikimedia; COVID19 Chart – CNCB.

Newspapers in Germany are reporting that there has been a COVID-19 outbreak on a river cruise ship on the Moselle River in Germany. The outbreak occurred on the MS Vista Serenity river cruise ship.

Germany newspapers Trierische Volksfreund, Focus, and Bild report that members of the ship’s crew contracted the virus from a guest on a previous cruise. The article states: “145 new passengers were on board. But five days after departure, the tour operator AVista Reisen stopped the ship in Piesport, Rhineland-Palatinate. All passengers were then brought home by taxi transfer and had to be quarantined . . .  The crew members stayed on board.” 13 cases of COVID-19 infection were reported. The article does not state how many guests versus crew members were infected.

Bild’s (subscription only) headline states: “CREW MEMBERS INFECTED, IMPRISONED, FIRED – Corona drama on cruise ship!” Some crew members are reportedly angry, after being quarantined on the ship for 14 days. Some of the crew members were reportedly fired. 

This is the second COVID-19 outbreak on a river cruise ship in Europe in the last six 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 French passengers and six crew members on the Vasco da Gama river cruise ship tested positive for the virus. (The Vasco da Gama is not to be confused with the cruise ship of the same name previously operated by the now defunct Cruise & Maritime Voyages).

European cruise ships are often touted as proof that cruising can be conducted in a safe manner despite the coronavirus pandemic. But the truth is that there have been over 100 guests and crew members infected with COVID-19 on cruises in Europe, including 74 infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships: MS Roald Amundsen (71) and MS Finnmarken (3 with one death), 8 people on the Costa Diadema, 8 on the Vasco da Gama river cruise ship, one on the Silversea Silver Spirit, and 13 (so far) on the Vista Serenity river ship.

There is no indication regarding the type of protocols which were in effect for this particlar ship.

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Photo credit: Vista Serenity – 1AVista Reisen (top); Vista Serenity (bottom) – Thomas Frey via Bild

Last Friday, a status conference took place in the criminal pollution case pending against Carnival Corporation (Carnival)  and its brands.

Judge Patricia Seitz, who is the senior federal judge presiding over the case for the last four years, stated that she planned to require Carnival to certify that each of its cruise ships is compliant with its probation obligations at least 60 days before the ships could reenter U.S. waters to resume cruises.

As explained by the Miami Herald, at the start of the hearing, Judge Seitz “said she would sign her order requiring the 60-day notice that evening. Carnival lawyers David Kelly and David Markus begged her to reconsider,” arguing that such a ruling would interfere with Carnival’s plans to restart cruises in the U.S, as early as December 1st. At the end of the hearing, Judge Seitz then agree to delay her order “for 24 hours so the company could review it.”

As explained below, Carnival has remained largely in non-compliance with the Court’s environmental compliance program over the past four years during which it and its subsidiaries have remained on probation. In 2016, Judge Seitz fined Carnival $40,000,000 after it pleaded guilty to and was convicted of various felonies arising out of widespread pollution for nearly a decade. The felonies involved not just violations of environmental laws and regulations but lying to the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Justice and obstruction of justice. The Court concluded that Carnival-owned cruise ships operated by Princess Cruises illegally discharged oil all around the world. The cuise lines’ unlawful conduct was intentional. Ship employees fabricated secret by-pass valves to avoid the ship’s oily-water separators (which would separate the oil from the bilge water to be stored on board in order for the company to safely dispose of it ashore) and dumped the toxic oil directly into the water. The five ships involved were Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess, Star PrincessGrand Princess, Coral Princess and Golden Princess.

Read Deliberate Dumping, Cover-Up and Lies: DOJ Fines Princess Cruises $40,000,000 for an explanation of Carnival’s prior environmental crimes.

Judge Seitz again sanctioned Carnival in the summer of 2019, this time for $20,000,000, after it was caught continuing to pollute by discharging large quantities of plastics mixed with garbage and trash, grey water, chemicals and other pollutants thoughout Bahamian waters as well as a U.S. national water park in Glacier’s Bay, Alaska among other locations. Many people were concerned with the meager financial penalty levied by the Court, particularly because Carnival collected over $3,200,000,000 in profits from over $20,000,000,000 in gross revenue in 2019. The monetary fine was just a proverbial drop in the bucket. Judge Seitz had raised hopes that a more significant sanction would be entered when she stated during a conference that she was contemplating prohibiting Carnival cruise ships from calling on U.S. ports as punishment for Carnival continuing to pollute. She also mentioned the possibility of imprisoning some of the Carnival cruise executives for violating her prior orders. But in the end the Court levied just relatively non-consequential fines.

Neither a ban of Carnival from U.S. ports nor jail time for the cruise executives ever materialized.

Wednesday afternoon, the long awaited order was finally made available to the public.  But instead of a 60 day requirement of submitting a certificate that Carnival ships were in environmental compliance before entering U.S. waters,  Judge Seitz now requires that Carnival has to certify that each ship is environmentally compliant seven days after entering U.S. waters for any ship returning to a U.S. port before December 31st.

The order, which you can review here, essentially permits Carnival to bring its ships into U.S. ports without being fully compliant with environmental equipment and proecdures which had remained outstanding for well over a year. All Carnival has to do is subsequently claim, within a week of ariving in the U.S.,  that its ship is in compliance. But this is a company which is notorious for its environmental shortcomings and its propensity to lie about its conduct. Moreover, the order specifically envisions that Carnival will simply have to offer an explanation of some sort for its continued non-compliance and offer its own plan for bringing the ship into compliance at some later date.

There are no sanctions for continued non-compliance contained in the order. There is no financial incentive for Carnival finally bringing its fleet into compliance with the Court’s environmental plan, and there is no financial consequence when it again does not.

A review of the court files reflects the Court’s ongoing concerns over the years with Carnival’s failure to install working food waste digesters, many of which had failed to operate correctly on its ships. Pollution prevention devices often have failed to work properly and were often in a state of disrepair. Carnival’s so-called “Advanced Air Quality Sytems” (i.e., “cheat devices“) often leaked, malfunctioned or were otherwise non-operational and lacked critical spare parts for repair.

Last month, the Third Party Auditor (TPA) and Court Appointed Monitor (CAM) issues reports which painted an image of Carnival continuing to struggle to comply with the terms of probation required by the court. In particular, both the TPA and the CAM concluded that after three years of Court ordered probation of the entire fleet of Carnival Corporation-owned ships, the company failed to comply with substantial parts of the Court’s Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) due to a lack of commitment by Carnival’s senior management.

The TPA Report Demonstrates Numerous Non-Conformities Attributable to the Senior Management’s Lack of Commitment to a Sustainable Environmental Compliance Program

The TPA, ABSG Consulting, Inc., filed a 39 page Three Year Report with 15 pages of exhibits outlining the group’s findings, analysis, observations and recommendations regarding Carnival Corporation’s fleet of cruise ships.  The TPA observed that there were “significant multiple documented instances of non-compliance with the Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP)” and marine environmental laws and regulations. Carnival is now entering the fourth year of the five year ECP period. In the last year, from April 19, 2019 through April 18, 2020, the TPA conducted 38 vessel audits including 17 Princess Cruises vessels and and 21 vessels of the other 8 Carnival Corporation brands. The TPA concluded in its summary of year three observations:

“. . . there still appears to be a lack of commitment within the senior management of the Company to bring a sustainable environmental compliance program into the day-to-day culture of the Company.” The TPA commented on the “lack of verifiable actions” during the thrid year that the senior management were “good stewards of the environment.” There are numerous examples of non-conformities documented in the report including the failure of pollution prevention equipment at page 26 of the report, such as this:

  • “On board the CARNIVAL VALOR, the Exhaust Gas Cleaning System (EGCS) for MDG No. 5 and No. 6 are not operational due to the failure of the exhaust gas SO2/Co2 analyzer. No. 4 MDG ECGS is nonoperational due to extensive repairs to the exhaust gas piping (exhaust flue).
  • On board the AIDADIVA, the waste processing equipment is not operational. Only one (1) food shredder on the pulper system is operational. The second shredder broke down on August 28, 2019 and the ship has had only one (1) shredder working since then.
  • On board the CARNIVAL DREAM, the Exhaust Gas Cleaning System (EGCS) have not been operational since March 2018. The CARIBBEAN PRINCESS, ZUIDERDAM, CARNIVAL VISTA, and CARNIVAL LIBERTY were also noted to have non-working EGCS.
  • On board the CARNIVAL CONQUEST, the Exhaust Gas Cleaning System (EGCS) installed for engines DG4, DG5, and DG6 are out of service and currently undergoing underway repairs for cracks in the structure of the exhaust system. The estimated time for completion of these repairs is mid-December.”

The report, which is quite detailed, can be reviewed here.

The Court Appointed Monitor’s Third Annual Report Questions Whether Carnival’s Top Leaderships Is Committed to Supporting the Company’s Compliance Goals 

The CAM filed an exhaustive 249 page report with 6 pages of exhibits which addressed Carnival’s third year on probation. The CAM was entirely complimentary regarding Carnival’s employee which it indicated were supportive, cooperative and open with their communications. CAM began its introduction by stating that it “has often observed that the Company has employees with the skill, ability, and dedication to accomplish its compliance goals. The continuing question has been whether there is lasting resolve from the Company’s top leadership to support those efforts, both in words and in deeds.”

The CAM noted that the company exhibited some progress particularly after Carnival Corporation accepted responsibility for six admitted probation violations, leading to pleading guilty in June of 2019 to multiple felonies  (and Judge Seitz fining it an additional $20,000,000). But the CAM stated that “. . . barriers and obstacles to compliance remain. The Company continued to have “gaps and missteps in addressing underlying compliance weaknesses.” These include:

  • Repeated gaps on basic compliance support for the ships, including issues related to: reliability and availability of pollution prevention equipment; availability of spare parts; adequacy of crew staffing; high crew workloads; the generally slow pace of IT improvements needed to support compliance; and the revelation that, despite public statements that the Company was vetting its waste vendors before using them, the general lack of evidence of such vetting, leading to questions about the ultimate fate of wastes offloaded from Company ships;
  • Delay in developing a coordinated, centralized response to the findings of the corporate-wide environmental compliance culture survey—a delay which reflects the challenges of the Company’s complex and decentralized corporate structure, identified as a barrier to compliance in the CAM First Annual Report;
  • Unresolved weaknesses in the corporate compliance function, including that the compliance function remains decentralized in many ways—again, reflecting the CAM’s ECP Year One finding that the Company’s balkanized corporate structure is a barrier to compliance;
  • An apparent failure to provide the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer and Environmental Corporate Compliance Manager with the authority required by the ECP and probation settlement, despite pleading guilty in June 2019 to a probation violation for failing to provide the Environmental Corporate Compliance Manager with ECP-required authority, another issue identified by the CAM in ECP Year One;
  • Persistent failure to develop an effective, independent internal investigations function—a challenge recognized by the Company, its consultant, the Third Party Auditor (“TPA”), and the CAM as early as ECP Year One;
  • A waste vendor assessment program that, despite being an improvement from the previous practices, still appears to be inadequate; and
  • A continuing failure to listen to, and respond to, the Company’s own employees, auditors, and consultants, who have repeatedly alerted the Company to many of these issues. For instance, as early as February 2018, Company employees identified the issue of prohibited discharges of non-food items (including plastics) into the ocean due to inadequate onboard food waste management. But it was not until the issue was illuminated by the TPA and the CAM Team in late 2018, and put forward by the Office of Probation in the probation revocation petition filed in March 2019, that the Company began significant work to address this problem.”

The CAM stressed that Carnival “appears to be among the few corporate defendants to have violated the terms of a corporate probation so significantly that it faced probation revocation proceedings by the Office of Probation.”

The lengthy report can be viewed here. There are numerous details of the CAM’s findings of multiple environmental violations and non-compliance with the ECP.

Pollution Control Equipment Often Remain Broken and Out of Sevice

The CAM noted that the majority of Major Non-Conformity findings fell under the category of “failure of pollution prevention equipment.”  A common problem was that critical spare parts for environmental equipment was not maintained to acceptable levels and  orders were found overdue without follow up. There were 12 major non-conformities) regarding inoperable
pollution prevention equipment.

The CAM reports that that it will continue to evaluate “the extent to which there is a sustained focus by top leadership on support for compliance, including in the form of concrete commitments and actions.”

Carnival Has Made a Mockery of Its Environemntal Compliance Obligations

With no requirement that Carnival’s long-standing environmental deficiencies be required to be corrected before its  ships are permitted to again operate in U.S. waters, the Court  kicked the can down the road again. The result is that when the next Carnival ship appears at a U.S. port (assuming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lift its no-sail order), it will be questionable whether Carnival has finally taken such basic steps as installing a new food digester or repairing the malfunctioning air quality devices. But the cruise fans and travel writers won’t know and don’t care, as they celebrate the arrival of Carnival ships back to U.S. ports with great fanfare.

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Photo credits: Carnival Liberty – James Willamor, Raleigh, NC,  CC BY-SA 2.0 commons / wikimedia; Carnival Conquest – Derek Kastner f, Reston, VA CC BY 2.0 commons / wikimedia.

Former guests on the MSC Grandiosa received emails (copy available here) this weekend from the Italian Ministry of Health advising them that a case of COVID-19 was confirmed on the cruise ship which left from Palermo on October 7th.

The email in question had been posted by former cruise guests, who indicated that they received the communication from the country’s Ministry of Health. The guests posted the email on various Italian cruise pages, including the MSC Grandiosa Fan Club page on Facebook.  Several members of the page commented that they received the same email.

The email (translated) stated that:

Dear Mrs/Mr:

“We are contacting you from the Ministry of Health, as a result of the identification of a CONFIRMED CASE OF COVID-19 aboard the MSC Grandiosa ship that left from Palermo on October 7th and where you were embarked. In the following 14 days from the date of the exposure (October 7th 2020) besides remembering you the classic prevention measures: to frequently wash your hands, coughing and sneezing directly on a paper tissue or in your elbow crease, we ask you to monitor your health conditions, in case you experience symptoms, even if they are mild (particularly cough, rhinorrhea/congestion, respiratory distress, muscular pain, anosmia/ageusia/dysgeusia, diarrhea, asthenia you must immediately contact your family doctor or your pediatrician, and report the possible exposure you could have had on the ship.”

The person who sent me this information, who wishes to remain anonymous, explained that the MSC Grandiosa had been on a seven-day cruise which boarded guests in a number of Italian ports, including Genoa, Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples and Palermo. The person commented that “I think is really a mess here in Italy with numbers increasing day by day – it’s like a bomb countdown.”

It is currently not publicly known whether the confirmed positive case involved a guest or a crew member. It is less than clear whether the Ministry of Health identified the people who it sent the emil to through contact tracing or whether the Italian health department simply notified all of the guests who traveled on the ship during the cruise in question. It is unknown whether anyone receiving the email has exhibited symptoms and tested positive, or whether they may be infected but not symptomatic yet.

Last week, the MSC Gransdiosa sailed on another seven-day itinerary which left Genoa on October 11th and returned to that port yesterday evening. There are several reports that after calling on Palermo, the MSC ship sailed to Valetta, Malta. However, the Maltese maritime authorities denied the vessel permission to port and disembark guests for an shore excursion due to a suspected case of coronavirus among the crew members, according to Ship Mag. Malta Ship News reported that the ship entered Valetta’s Grand Harbour early Friday morning, a little after 6:00 a.m. and then left port shortly before noon without discharging any passengers.  The ship then sailed back to Genoa where it arrived yesterday.

It is not known whether the crew member tested positive or whether there is a connection between the confirmed positive finding arising out of the October 7th sailing and the suspected case last week involving a cruise member.

One thing appears certain regarding MSC’s (as well as Costa’s) new protocols is that they apparently do not require the cruise line to publicly disclose that there has been a confirmed positive COVID-19 case during a cruise. Last week, we reported that there had been eight positive cases confirmed on the Costa Diadema which also sailed from an Italian port. Costa did not publicly reveal this information. Only through reporting by the Italian press did the public learn this information. At a minimum, the next group of passengers who are booked to sail on a ship with infected guests or crew members should be notified of a confirmed case. They should also have the right to cancel their cruise with a full and immediate refund of their cruise fares.

Just last Thursday, the “Points Guy” Gene Sloan interviewed MSC cruise executive Ken Muskat on Twitter in a marketing effort orchastrated by MSC to suggest that its protocols were tested and sufficiently safe for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift its current no-sail order which extends to October 31st.

At the time of the interview, MSC knew that at least one prior person on the MSC Grandiosa had been confirmed positve with COVID-19. There apparently is no legal requirement that cruise lines, which have a reputation for a lack of transparency, disclose such basic health information to the public.

We last commented on the MSC Grandiosa ten days ago when we reported that performers (dancers and singers) were crowded on stage together and guests were filmed crowded together drinking and dancing in front of a band on the pool deck of the ship. Some of the guests were wearing masks, but some were clearly not. There was no semblance of social distancing in the videos shown of the deck party.

There is a surge of COVID-19 cases happening in Europe, including Italy, at the moment. It remains dangerous to travel during this pandemic. Congregating in bars, restaurants, night clubs and dance parties on crowed cruise ships is a good way to become infected and spread the virus back to the residents of the home-ports of the cruise ships and home communities of the infected guests.

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Image credits: MSC Grandiosa – By kees torn – Vertrek, CC BY-SA 2.0 commons / wikimedia; screen grab – Cruise Passion

This week, eight Costa Cruises guests tested positive for COVID-19 during two cruises on the Costa Diadema. As USA TODAY reported yesterday, the Costa cruise ship departed from Genoa on September 28th and ended its voyage on October 12th. The ship then departed on a second 14-day cruise with many of the same passengers on board from the pevious cruise and returned to Genoa yesterday 10 days earlier than intended.

There was COVID-19 on the ship during both cruises notwithstanding Costa’s so-called “strenuous” protocols which promise atotally safe cruise. An Italian newspaper, Il Secolo XIX, reported that seven passengers were tested on Monday and were positive for the virus. Carnival told USA TODAY that “following excursions in Greek islands, they were tested again before returning to Italy, and seven preliminarily tested positive.” The guests were then retested in facilities in Palermo, again found to be positive for the virus, and then isolated ashore.

On Wednesday, another guest, a French national, became ill on the Costa Diadema and a test taken on the ship was also positive for COVID-19. The passenger was then disembarked from the ship and transported to a hospital in Naples where the patient’s doctor characterized his condition in somewhat conflicting terms. Although one newspaper account in Italy indicated that the guest had a fever and other “mild” symptoms, the 78 year-old man was described in other accounts to be in a “serious” and “worrying” condition.

The Costa cruise ship then discontinued the cruise and returned to Genoa. Costa claimed that the cruise was cut short because of the “the epidemiological situation in France.”

Although the guest was hospitalized on October 14th, Costa issued a statement on October 15th not acknowledging the hospitalization of the guest for COVID19 in Naples just the day before. The Italian newspaper, Il Secolo XIX, first learned of the COVID19 illness and reported it yesterday. Costa’s less-than-forthcoming press release raises more questions than answers. Here are the questions which I posed to Costa on Twitter yesterday and which remain unanswered:

I haven’t received any responses to these basic inquiries, but if I do I’ll update this article.

Perhaps others may have other relevant questions regarding how the “totally safe protocols” could permit as many as eight guests who went on leisure cruises and congregated in the ship’s bars, restaurants, clubs and theaters to end up being infected with COVID-19?

One reader of this blog posted this comment on our Facebook page:

“What really surprised me about this outbreak was that a French company, in a country with one of the highest outbreaks, would charter a ship, find 2500 people, bus them to Savona and lock them up together for a week. I don’t get who thought that was a good idea.”

Carnival Corporation has attemtped to justify its efforts to push the CDC to permit the resumption of cruising from U.S. ports by claiming that Costa cruises in Europe have been successful and its protocols are “totally safe.” This appears to an issue which I’m sure the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will want to take a look at.

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Photo credits: Costa Diadema – in tweets – Z Thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0 commons / wikimedia; “Totally Safe Cruise” – Costa Cruises.

The Italian newspaper, Il Secolo XIX, reports that a 78-year-old man, described as a French citizen, was disembarked in Naples, Italy on October 14 from the Costa Diadema. The guest tested positive for COVID-19 after he was swabbed aboard the ship. He was transported by private ambulance to the “Covid Hospital of the San Giuseppe Moscati hospital.” The newspaper stated that he was in a medical condition defined as “worrying” by the doctors. Ship Mag reported that the “man was hospitalized in serious condition but would not be in danger of life.”

There is some inconsitency between the Italian newspapers in describing the guest’s medical condition. Il Secolo XIX say that the doctors described his condition as “worrying” but reports that he has “fever and other mild symptoms compatible with Covid.”

After disembarking the ill guest, the Costa Diadema then left the port of Naples on the evening of Wednesday October 14th and arrived in Genoa, Italy today.

Yesterday, we reported that seven passengers from this Costa cruise ship who had disembarked in Palermo tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week. Italian health authorities then requested that all crew members on the ship undergo swab testing when the ship was in Genoa. The test of the crew members were reportedly negative for the virus.

Costa claims that it is following its “strenuous” safety protocols, which the cruise line says “go beyond” the existing requirements of the Italian Health Authority. Costa does not explain how or why the passenger apparently passed his initial test for the virus and then tested positive for COVID-19 during the middle of the cruise. Costa had originally stated that it prematurely terminated the cruise in question because of “the epidemiological situation in France” which is showing a surge in positive COVID-19 cases.  Costa did not mention either the seven former passengers who previously tested positive for COV-19, or this latest ill passenger, as affecting its decision to end the cruise prematurely.

Costa released a press statement to a journalist in the U.K. after we reported on the seven former passengers who tested positive and Costa’s decision to end the Costa Diadema’s current cruise early. But Costa did not mention that another passenger, the 78 year old French guest, has already been disembarked to the hospital in Naples for treatment of COVID-19.

Costa needs to transparently state why a total now of eight guests, who initially tested negative for the virus, later tested positive for COVID-19? Has it performed contact tracing to determine who these passengers came into contact with on the cruise? How were they infected and who did they infect?  Did these positive tests influence the cruise line in ending the cruise prematurely? Is there any basis to believe the eight positive tests were actually false positives?

As we have repeatedly stated, there is currently a surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe, including Italy. Is Costa reconsidering this type of non-essential travel and congregating of people on cruise ships during this deadly pandemic?

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Photo credit: Top – Costa Diadema – top – Z Thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0 commons / wikimedia; bottom – Ship Mag.

Seven guests on the Costa Diadema tested positive for COVID-19 after leaving the ship, according to the Italian newspaper Il Secolo XIX.

The newspaper reports that the Italian health authorities requested that all crew members on the Costa Diadema undergo swab testing earlier this week after the ship was in Genoa. The request from the health authorities “came after seven passengers already disembarked in Palermo tested positive for coronavirus in recent days.”

The newspaper explains that the passengers left the ship and then tested positive for the virus notwithstanding the fact that all passengers are required to undergo what it called “swab testing” performed “before boarding and then once the cruise is over.”

The Costa cruise ship then set sail on a Mediterranean itinerary after the tests of the crew members were reportedly negative. However, today Costa announced that it decided to prematurely terminate the current cruise of the Costa Diadema “in consideration of the epidemiological situation in France.” There was no mention of the former passengers who previously tested positive for COVD-19.

Ship Mag reports that Costa is operating the Costa Diadema on behalf of an undisclosed French tour operator, with only French passengers on board. Costa stated that “The ship is currently underway to return directly to Genoa, the port of arrival of the itinerary, where it is expected to dock on Friday 16 October.”

The Medi Telegraph also reported that “the Costa Diadema cruise ship, chartered by the company to a French tour operator, is returning to Genoa from the port of Naples” due to the “epidemiological situation in France.”

Costa did not provide a further explanation what it meant by the phrase “epidemiological situation in France.” However, data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resources Center, the leading authority on the pandemic, shows that France is experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 cases. Italy, for that matter, is also showing a spike in new cases involving the virus.

U.S. based cruise lines are in the process of trying to convince the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it is safe to resume cruising from U.S. ports. Yet, the majority of states in the U.S. are showing an increase in COVID-19 cases. Of course, the U.S. has a substantially higher number of cases than either France or Italy, both in total numbers and on a per capita basis.

The bottom line is that it remains dangerous to even consider non-essential travel and congregating on a cruise ship during this deadly pandemic.

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October 16, 2020 Update: Several newspapers in Italy report that a passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 on the Costa Diadema was disembarked in Naples, Italy, before the ship returned to Genoa. Docotrs repotedly states that the patient has a fever, and at least one newspaper says are “mild” symptoms which are “worrying” and “serious.” This raises the issue whether Costa has been transparent in releasing information about the outbreak of the virus. Read: Costa Diadema: Passenger with COVID-19 Disembarked in Naples, Italy.

Photo credit: Top – Costa Diadema – Z Thomas – CC BY-SA 4.0, commons / wikimedia.; middle – Costa Diadema – Ship Mag.

Headlines generated in major newspapers by this year’s Seatrade Cruise Convention last week announced that the cruise lines promised  “100% testing” of guests and crew members.  This is a dangerously misleading headline.

The cruise lines’ proposed testing protocols are not remotely “100%” as far as availability, accuracy, consistency or responsibility.

The proposed testing is clearly not “100%” accurate. Nor are COVID tests, particularly rapid tests, “100%” available to those who wish to cruise (or to the cruise lines themselves).  Nor are cruise industry proposols consistent with respect to the  procedures or the number of tests for guests versus crew members. Cruise lines also do not even pretend that they will be 100% responsible for the payment of the test which they will require each passenger to obtain.

There is Not a 100% Consistency Between the Type of Required Tests

The Miami Herald reported that although the cruise industry committed to what it’s calling “100% testing” of passengers and crew,  it is not offering specifics about what “testing will be used (or) when it will be done . . . ” In Europe,  MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises perform rapid testing in the terminal, with a more thorough PCR test given if a positive result shows up. On TUI cruises (involving the Mein Schiff fleet) passengers must simply show a negative test taken before sailing. There is no indication that cruise ships leaving from U.S. ports will require all guests to undergo both PRP tests and, later, rapid tests shortly before they embark.

There is Not a 100% Consistentcy Between Testing of Guests and Crew Members

The Miami Herald reports that the Royal Caribbean – Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) Healthy Sail Panel requires:

▪ All passengers should be tested for COVID-19 between five days and 24 hours prior to boarding; and

▪ Crew should be tested in their home countries before leaving to join a ship and then again at the end of a seven-day on board quarantine period, ideally using PCR tests. A third test may be administered the day of boarding (if feasible based on costs).

I first pointed out this discrepancy two weeks ago in Why The Royal Caribbean – NCL “Healthy Sail” Protocols Will Fail. The RCCL-NCL joint panel does not require guests to undergo mandatory multiple tests under its proposed recommendations. A guest is required only to submit evidence of a single negative test, apparently at their own expense, taken as long as five days before the cruise. There is no proposed mandatory requirement for a negative rapid test at the port immediately before embarking. This failure completely ignores the fact that a guest can be infected, after the first test is taken, when they interact with others before the cruise (in bars, restuarants, supermarkets, etc.) in airports and buses traveling to embarkations points.

Rapid Tests (For Guests) May be Not be 100% Available 

The panel suggests that rapid test results (which it concedes are available in as little as 15 minutes for crew members) may be a possible option but claims that they are not “logistically or financially feasible” for passengers. Cruise executive Fain then concedes in a recorded interview two weeks ago  (which you can listen to here) that rapid tests are currently unavailable. It is unreasonable for cruise lines to propose resuming cruising if they do not believe that rapid tests will be 100% available for all crew members and guests alike.

Cruise Lines May Not be 100% Responsible for Guest Tests

The Miami Herald reported that cruise lines are largely silent about the specifics of testing and “whether the passenger or the companies will pay for it.” If the cruise line is not promising to pay for the tests, you can assume that you as a guest will have to do so

There is not a 100% Consistency Between the Protocols Submitted to the CDC and the UK Chamber of Shipping

There are significant differences between CLIA’s recommendations to the CDC and its recommendations submitted to the U.K. Chamber of Shipping. Recommendations to the Chamber of Shipping do not include preboarding COVID-19 testing for passengers – only for crew, as UK Managing Editor of Cruise Critic Adam Coulter stated. He noted that the screening protocols submitted in the U.K. “focus on people who arrive and are symptomatic, not on those who might be asymptomatic.” Most importantly, the news of CLIA’s “100% testing” appears to contradict restart plans drawn up by CLIA in the UK and submitted to the UK Chamber of Shipping “which explicitly do not include mandatory pre-boarding testing for passengers – just for crew.” As matters now stand, the U.K.’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office still advises against all ocean cruising.

COVID Tests are Not 100% Accurate

Carnival CEO Arnold admitted at the Seatrade Cruise conference last as the virus continues to spread on land, it will likely spread at sea. Despite tests, there will still be shipboard outbreaks.

CLIA touts “100% testing” of guests but does not explain how or where this will take place nor does it address the availability or accuracy of such tests. Leading epidemiologists and even the paid experts themselves on the RCL-NCL “Healthy Sail” panel have made clear that the proposed testing is not 100% reliable. But the cruise executives continue to tout cruising, with NCL CEO Frank Del Rio going so far as to claim that a cruise ship is “safer than anywhere else in the world.”

As Dr. Eric Ding pointed out, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a former acting commissioner of the F.D.A., who serves as one of the chairs (with Dr. Gottlieb) on the Healthy Sail panel, acknowledged that “passengers who are exposed to the virus en route to the cruise ship would not necessarily test negative, but could be infectious.”

A DJ hired to work on the Silver Spirit luxury cruise ship, which been chartered for the first cruise from Saudi Arabia since the pandemic, tested positive for the virus last month, as we reported in our article titled Silver Spirit Red Sea Cruise Cut Short Due to COVID-19. The ship, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises, was following the Healthy Sail Panel’s recommendations.

The DJ tested positive nothwaithstanding the fact that she had been tested prior to the cruise. Also, the Silver Spirit was the first ultra-luxury cruise ship to sail with a certification in infection prevention from DNV GL, the world’s leading classification society. The ship was awarded the certification on August 24, 2020, just three days before the ship sailed on the cruise in question. MarineInsight quoted Roberto Martinoli, Silversea’s President and CEO, as saying “we are proud to become the first ultra-luxury cruise line to gain the certification in infection prevention for maritime, demonstrating our unwavering commitment to protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of our guests, crew and the destinations we visit.” The point is that tests can show false negatives even for luxury cruise ships with high caliber health certifications.

The recent “super-spreader” event at the White House and Rose Garden which infected the President and nearly two dozen senior members of his administration ten days sago should be clear proof that COVID-19 tests are not perfect.

Newspaper journalists, travel writers and cruise bloggers may all write about “100% testing” but there is no such certainty that COVID-19 outbreaks will be avoided if cruising resumes.

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Photo credit: Symphony of the Seas – Darthvadrouw – CC BY-SA 4.0 commons / wikimedia; By Derek Kastner from Reston, VA, USA – Carnival Conquest VII, CC BY 2.0, commons / wikimedia.

Yesterday, Dr. Scott Gottleib stated on the Face the Nation program that the U.S. will experience a “difficult fall and winter” due to the expanding COVID-19 epidemic. Although medical care for infected patients has resulted in fewer fatalities, Dr. Gottlieb warned that “we’re still going to have a lot of death and disease by the end of the year.”

The U.S. is “Taking a lot of Infection into a Very Dangerous Season”

Dr. Gottlieb previously stated to CBS News two weeks ago that with the number of coronavirus cases continuing to rise as the United States heads into the fall and winter months, the country is “taking a lot of infection into a very dangerous season” for the virus. “I think that there’s a lot of concern that we could start to see a real upsurge and this is a continuation of a broader trend underway as we head into the colder months,” Gottlieb said. “We were always facing heightened risk of increased spread of coronavirus as we headed into the fall and winter. Now we’re there. We’re starting to see that increase, and we’re taking a lot of infection into a very dangerous season for this virus.”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb – “It’s an Awful Risk to Pack a Lot of People on a Cruise Ship”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb is best known as one of the more notable experts on the Royal Caribbean – Norwegian Cruise Line joint “Healthy Sail” Panel. He is the panel’s co-chair and a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner.  He was very vocal last March (before he was paid to be on the panel) when the CDC entered its first  No Sail order which specifically refers to the fact that “cruise ship travel markedly increases the risk and impact of the COVID-19 disease outbreak.”

“I don’t think anybody should be taking a cruise right now … this is a very sticky pathogen,” the doctor explained last March 9th, “and once it gets inside a closed space such as a cruise ship, it spreads widely.” He gave the Diamond Princess cruise ship as an example of the wide spread of COVID-19, where more than 700 people were infected and over a dozen people subsequently died. “It’s an awful risk to pack a lot of people on a cruise ship,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

False Optimism in the Face of a Expanding Epidemic

The cruise executives most recently appeared at the annual Seatrade Cruise Convention where they claimed that it is safe to resume sailing.

The fact of the matter is that despite the cruise executives’ happy talk, it remains dangerous to engage in recreational travel and congregate in large groups. The epidemic is expanding in over 30 states. Miami-Dade County is a hotspot for the virus and is the county with the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. There is an average of over 50,000 people infected a day with the virus in the U.S. in the last week.

Questions Remain Regarding Cruise Lines’ COVID Protocols

There remain questions regarding the cruise industry’s protocols to safely return to cruising. Have all of the CLIA-member cruise ships been retrofitted with appropriate air-conditioning & ventilation systems with HEPA filters to reduce airborne transmission of COVID19 to guests & crew? Regarding the industry’s so-called “100% testing of guests and crew, the Miami Herald questioned “what testing will be used, when it will be done, and whether the passenger or the companies will pay for it.”

We recommend tracking the epidemic via the data compiled by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

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A reader of this blog sent me videos, one of which you can see here, of what it’s like on a MSC cruise ship with its much touted COVID-19 protocols.

The screenshot from the video is from the MSC Grandiosa. It says in part:

“. . .  two weeks ago in Europe an MSC cruise has set sail with thousands of passengers onboard. I’ve spent the last few days onboard MSC Grandiosa so now I can show you what it’s really like onboard. The cruise going very well. MSC are taking their procedures extremely seriously and are really leading the way when it comes to returning to cruising.”

This week Rick Sasso, the Chairman of MSC Cruises, stated at the Seatrade Cruise Convention that consumers may see cruising as the safest way to have a vacation.

One video initially shows the ship enforcing what appears to be appropriate social distancing and the wearing of masks around the ship. But there are several videos of musical performers, singers and dancers crowded on stages in enclosed, indoor spaces. You can see them belting out show tunes and huffing and puffing as they dance together on stage, all without masks. This clearly increases the risk of potentially spreading the virus not only to the guests (including one girl, around 5 ot 6 years old, shown not wearing a mask), but other crew members as well.

A second video, which you can see here, shows several hundred guests crowded together on a pool deck drinking and dancing in front of a band. Many guests seem to be wearing masks but others are not.

I’m sure that there are other videos and images which reveal the absence of social distancing and the disregard of masks on MSC ships.

Assuming the centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) permits the cruise industry to resume cruising from U.S. ports in the next few months, people who decide to spend their leisuse time on a cruise ship will substantially increase their risk of contracting the virus under such circumstances.

It will be particularly difficult convincing U.S. passengers to wear a mask on a cruise ship. As one reader of this blog said in a post today:

“The last thing anyone needs right now is a bunch of maskless drunks spreading covid from port to port.”

Another reader said “crewmembers are so afraid of complaints / negative comments that there will be no enforcement of Covid measures anywhere. I’d put money on mask usage and social distancing being below 5% before the ship leaves its home port.”

Another long- term crew member, a musician who worked on Cunard ships, said:

“What we’ve learned from things on land is once people go to restaurants and especially bars and get drunk the masks come off and there is no social distancing anymore. Cruise ships are floating bars and restaurants. And big Broadway style shows in big theaters with people sitting close to one another. I live in a state where we opened up all the bars and restaurants and then we went to record Covid 19 cases and now we are shutting everything back down again.”

Does anyone else have additional videos or photos of the MSC or Costa cruise ships which are cruising in Europe that show whether guests and crew members are observing basic COVID protocols? MSC Cruises executives claim that it’s safe on their ships. It seems that the CDC would like to know what’s actually happening at sea.

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Image credits: Screen Grabs – Cruise Passion.