As COVID-19 Killed Cruise Ship Passengers, Voyages Continued

Arnold & Itkin

In early February, the dangers of a COVID-19 outbreak onboard cruise ships were made abundantly clear when authorities quarantined Carnival’s Diamond Princess at a dock in Yokohama, Japan. All 3,711 people aboard the ship were stuck in Tokyo Bay for 27 days. By mid-March, 712 passengers had tested positive for coronavirus. By mid-April, fourteen of those on board had died from the virus. The ship was cleared to set sail again on March 30.

The Diamond Princess was just the beginning for a slew of COVID-19 mishandlings from Carnival executives. Our firm reported that in addition to the Diamond Princess, at least six other Carnival ships had serious COVID-19 outbreaks on them—more than any other cruise operator in the world. On Carnival ships alone, there had been more than 1,500 infections and 39 deaths from COVID-19 as of April 21.

Carnival ships confirmed to have COVID-19 outbreaks by the CDC include the following:

  • Carnival Imagination
  • Crown Princess
  • Celebrity Eclipse
  • Oasis of the Seas
  • Norwegian Bliss
  • Norwegian Breakaway

Cruise Ship Operators Continued Operations Despite a Global Pandemic

Now, a report from the Wall Street Journal has found that an alarming number of cruise ships continued to launch voyages despite obvious signs of the dangers of doing so during the COVID-19. In total, the Journal found that over 100 cruise ships disembarked on or after March 4, the day that a passenger’s death was confirmed on a cruise that stopped in the United States. In other words, cruise operators had ample evidence that COVID-19 was a global problem and continued to send people out on packed boats regardless. Some even called the Dominican Republic’s denial of port access to them “an overreaction” to passengers with COVID-19 symptoms.

How bad is the cruise ship COVID-19 problem? It still isn’t clear. However, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has determined that at least 17 vessels that used at least one United States port carried passengers that tested positive for COVID-19. As ships traveled between ports, the thousands of passengers shared close spaces, spreading the disease to each other. Then, as they explored port cities and disembarked back to their hometowns, they continued spreading the disease. So, COVID-19 was given a playground to thrive in on cruise ships, and a vehicle to spread on land once a voyage ended.

“They never let us know that there was the possibility of the virus on board,” Lyn Davidson told the Journal. “We didn’t know that the danger was all around us at that time, and we were part of it.” she said. Davidson later tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving home from her trip aboard the Ruby Princess.

Worst of all: early coronavirus numbers for cruise ships don’t look great, and they’re likely to grow.

How Much Did Cruise Ships Spread COVID-19?

The global spread of COVID-19 from cruise ships is still being investigated by officials in more than 20 countries. According to the Wall Street Journal, government officials in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Iowa, Ohio, California, Minnesota, Florida, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico have sourced a significant amount of coronavirus infections back to cruise ships. Either the first COVID-19 case in these areas was sourced to a cruise ship or the rapid acceleration of local infections were attributed to cruise ship passengers.

As of March 13, the CDC had linked 17% of COVID-19 cases in the United States to cruise ships.

To make matters worse, some cruise ship travelers disembarked without being informed that their fellow passengers had become ill with symptoms matching those of coronavirus. In some instances, passengers weren’t even noticed that some of their fellow travelers were hospitalized because of the disease. Currently, the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating whether two Carnival cruise ships broke federal law by not informing officials about sick travelers who disembarked in San Francisco and Puerto Rico.

Of the 70 passengers and crew who died of COVID-19 from vessels that disembarked in the early weeks of March, 49 of them were on Carnival vessels. Carnival is currently facing an investigation in Australia that could result in criminal charges for the company.

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