Coronavirus cases put a damper on the long-awaited return of cruising around the world this week – but it hasn’t extinguished attempts to bring back itineraries wherever lines can make them work.
Hurtigruten, the Norwegian expedition line that trail-blazed the return in Northern Europe, temporarily suspend expedition journeys on Monday after cases among the 158-strong crew of the MS Roald Amundsen. A total of 37 crew and 16 guests have tested positive so far.
The line’s boss admitted “several deviations” from the company’s internal procedures on MS Roald Amundsen, and said the line has hired an outside firm to conduct a full investigation.
“That’s not good enough. It has caused a demanding and serious situation. I apologise to our guests, colleagues and everyone who cares for Hurtigruten,” said Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam.
What went wrong? “We have uncovered several deviations from procedures, for example when it comes to quarantining foreign crews and the internal flow of important information,” said VP of Global Communications Rune Thomas Ege.
“We have failed. Information regarding recommendations and agreements with the National Health Authorities have not been forwarded to the right people at the right time. This happened due to a failure in our internal information routines. We strongly regret this”, he continued.
In a way, the fact that procedures had not been followed was almost a relief for other lines who have been watching Hurtigruten’s return in the hope that a formula would be found for safe sailings.
It means that, with better systems in place, there is still a chance these first tentative steps could succeed.
The sailings involved passengers from selected European countries thought to be relatively COVID-19 free.
Two other vessels in the fleet were also checked: MS Fridtjof Nansen has been declared CIVID free after returning to Hamburg at the end of a two-week expedition cruise along the coast of Norway with 171 guests and 162 crew members on board.
MS Spitsbergen is on her way between Tromsø and Svalbard. She arrived Thursday morning with crew of 70 and 64 guests on board.
The ship was due to receive testing equipment in Adventfjorden outside Longyearbyen, Svalbard on Monday, however fog prevented the plane carrying the testing equipment from landing. She will dock in Tromsø so everyone on board can be tested.
Damian Perry, Managing Director Hurtigruten Asia Pacific, said: “Our team, led by our CEO Daniel Skjeldam is working closely and transparently with the Norwegian Health Authorities to understand how the COVID outbreak occurred and how it can be prevented from happening again. We are also following up with all guests, staff and crew for their health and safety.”
Norwegian authorities have now barred all cruise ships with more than 100 people on board from disembarking at its ports.
The move followed another case in which SeaDream 1, owned by SeaDream Yacht Club, had a guest who had returned to Denmark test positive to coronavirus. The passenger had traveled home from Tromsø.
All passengers and crew, apart from essential workers, are now in quarantine on board, and the voyage has been suspended. But SeaDream plans to resume the voyage.
Thousands of miles away, a similar fate befell the first cruise to resume sailings from a U.S. port.
Just three days into a week-long itinerary, UnCruise Adventures announced that its 60-passenger Wilderness Adventurer was forced to turn back to Juneau, Alaska.
A passenger had tested positive, even though they had taken tests before leaving for the trip, and a second test upon arrival in Alaska.
“The guest is showing no symptoms and no other guests or crew are showing outward symptoms of any kind,” said an UnCruise statement.
Meanwhile the Paul Gauguin was on its first international voyage when it was forced to abandon its itinerary and return to port in Tahiti with a suspected case.
Ocean-going cruise lines have agreed to voluntarily suspend U.S. cruise operations until at least 31 October, Cruise Lines International Association has announced.
In Australia, lines have yet to state their position. The Australian government’s start date is September 17, and there are still plenty of itineraries on sale in October.
CLIA Australasia said no date changes were planned at this stage.
In the US, CLIA said: “We believe it is prudent at this time to voluntarily extend the suspension of U.S. ocean-going cruise operations to 31 October. This is a difficult decision as we recognise the crushing impact that this pandemic has had on our community and every other industry.
“However, we believe this proactive action further demonstrates the cruise industry’s commitment to public health and willingness to voluntarily suspend operations in the interest of public health and safety, as has occurred twice prior.”