It was the story that turned the tide for cruising in Australia: The Coral Princess went from zero to hero in a day after members of her crew and a few passengers caught COVID.
Some media outlets chose to headline the story, labelling her “riddled” with the virus and claiming it as a major outbreak.
Only when the passengers came off the ship in Sydney for scheduled shore excursions and told waiting TV reporters they were enjoying the journey and the minor outbreak was being handled well did the media storm die down.
Over 100 of the crew were isolated with the virus. And while we have heard from passengers, we had not heard from the crew. Until now.
In an extensive Facebook post, one of the Coral Princess team has told the story from the other side.
Crewman Nicholas Helm* said he was posting because he wanted the staff’s side of the story told. And again, Mr Helm’s version of events was supportive of the way in which the cases were handled.
“We boarded the Coral at Brisbane’s new terminal on July 3rd, I was working on the ship, so we stayed in the crew area of the ship.
“Before leaving home (we live in Melbourne) we printed a hard copy of our vaccination record. We are up to date, with three shots in total, I believe two shots is the current requirement.
“Before boarding, we did a RAT and took a picture of the negative result (it did NOT need to be supervised).”
Mr Helm says testing and vaccination was a requirement to get on board.
“When we arrived at the terminal, we had to state that we had each done a RAT and that it was negative and state we were vaccinated..when we entered the terminal building, we had to wear a mask at all times.
“We then received our medallion and waited for about half an hour in a large building, with individual seats suitably distanced, while the ship completed disembarkation. We then boarded the ship, wearing our masks.”
Mr Helm says masks were worn by all staff in public areas and that most passengers were masked as well.
“Masks were worn by all staff when they were in public areas, masks were to be worn by passengers when in internal venues. I estimate 80-90% of passengers were masked.
“The theatre was a “sip and cover” venue, you were to wear a mask unless taking a drink, you could sip your drink but had to recover your face, perhaps 80% were wearing masks as per instructions. Most also covered their noses.”
As soon as infections were discovered, health measures ramped up.
“During the cruise almost 100 of the crew became infected, we had some quarantined in our crew area. Meals were delivered by staff wearing full PPE, mask, face shield and gloves. After tapping on the door, they left and the person took the meal into their room.
“When finished, the tray and covered meal box was left outside to be collected later, I did not see the quarantine area for passengers as this was a “no go zone” unless authorised, but I expect the procedures were similar.”
Mr Helm was relatively puzzled by the media coverage of the ship.
“When we disembarked on July 10th, our ship was “featured” on several news services, with terms like “COVID riddled”, “major outbreak”.
“In fact, I believe the vast majority were crew, who could not get off the ship at any port, even if negative. The number of infected passengers was perhaps a couple of dozen.”
The attitude on the ship also did not reflect the ‘cruise from hell’ headlines.
“The vast majority of passengers found the cruise an enjoyable experience, there were many people in wheelchairs, walking frames and “elderly” who had obviously decided the risk of infection was not sufficient to “put them off”. During the cruise, the number of people not masking dropped to around 80 percent? The majority were in the 20-30 age group”
Comments on the post corroborate Mr Helm’s story, thanking the crew for their unselfish and safe attitudes onboard.
Facebook user Hazel Johnson wrote: “Thank you so much for your honest report. I was on the Coral at the same time as you, and I can say you are correct. The crew were wonderful and never once did I see a crew member without their mask on.
“I tested positive for Covid on the Wednesday after the cruise and today tested negative. I’m thankful I had all 4 Covid injections. My husband and I really enjoyed ourselves on Coral Princess and looking forward to the next one.”
Keryn Lee Sandlant wrote: “Currently on the Coral Princess as a passenger witnessing thing’s first hand and what it’s like from our perspective.
“The ship and staff are doing their best to ensure that everyone enjoys their time onboard cruising.”
Industry support also continues to come through, with Tourism & Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond saying “Aussies love to cruise” and it’s crucial that cruise continues to operate.
“The bottom line here is that people have been given the option now to cruise, knowing that what will happen on board that ship has been done in conjunction with the health authorities. That’s the most important part of this.”
Ms Osmond also says cruises need to continue “circulating around the Australian coast” and injecting money into regional communities.
“For so many regional communities, these ships represent an enormous surge of income back into their tourism income.”
The reported outbreaks are not causing much apprehension for dedicated cruisers. Channel Nine once again questioned passengers cruisers, this time those getting onto Pacific Explorer for an Elvis-themed cruise.
Once again passengers offered no sensationalist headlines. Instead they were more focused on their adoration of the King of Rock.
“Been waiting for this for ages. Booked it last year and it was cancelled due to Covid, and now we’re here,” passenger Gwenda told A Current Affair.
“It’s an Elvis cruise and I’d do it for Elvis.”
Another passenger donning all-Elvis attire said: “It’s a sold out cruise, so it’ll be fantastic.”
*We have changed the name of the crewman to protect his privacy