Carnival Executives Face a Reckoning for Their Lack of Action
Our firm has previously reported on the serious health crisis Carnival was facing in March. The Diamond Princess, the Grand Princess, and at least five other ships have all been host to serious COVID-19 outbreaks—more than any other cruise operator in the world. At one point, one of its ships had a larger cluster of coronavirus cases ever seen outside of mainland China.
The result is staggering—in total, Carnival ships had 1,500 infections and 39 deaths due to COVID-19. We previously reported on four of those deaths, as well as several other deaths aboard the Costa Luminosa. Carnival CEO Arnold Donald denies that inaction or delayed response had anything to do with the number or severity of cases aboard his ships.
“Each ship is a mini-city,” he says. “We’re a small part of the real story. We’re being pulled along by it.”
However, no less than the CDC disagrees with Donald. One epidemiologist, Cindy Friedman, thinks that might have been the case after the first or second ship, but after seven ships, Carnival should have been better prepared to cease operating. “Nobody should be going on cruise ships during this pandemic, full stop,” she says. Carnival didn’t cancel all their cruises until the middle of March, long after the pandemic had reached serious conditions elsewhere.
Late Action Is Inaction During a Pandemic
In the Costa Luminosa’s case, it took a week before the captain instituted protocols to keep passengers isolated in their cabins, after they had received word of fatal cases connected with the ship. On the Grand Princess, the captain informed the passengers that the CDC was investigating a cluster of COVID-19 cases that were linked to the ship. This was followed by 24 hours of regular cruise activity, including large gatherings in pools, theaters, shops, and restaurants. Even the passengers were surprised they were allowed to continue as normal.
As of last week, 3,200 passengers and crew were still isolated aboard a Carnival ship. The rest have been docked and evacuated. Australian police have opened a criminal investigation into whether a Princess Cruises child company lied to authorities about an outbreak on a ship while it was docked in Sydney, which the company said it was cooperating with.
A History of Safety Problems
In the last 10 years, Carnival has faced numerous criticisms, fines, and violations for health and safety problems. In 2012, the Costa Concordia crashed into a rock formation; the captain abandoned ship while 32 passengers, including 1 child, died at sea. In 2013, the Carnival Triumph lost power and left hundreds of guest without working toilets or AC.
Even with a new CEO at the helm, the company’s safety record didn’t improve. In 2017, the Department of Justice hit the cruise company with a $40 million fine for dumping waste at sea. They didn’t learn their lesson: in 2019, the company pled guilty to disregarding the settlement agreement that arose from the 2017 ruling.
Like with many areas of management and governance all over the country, the COVID-19 crisis may have only revealed what was already beneath the surface.