Cruiselines Suspending Operations

by: - March 13, 2020
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Carnival Corporation has announced that it’s suspending operations of the Princess Cruises line of ships after two of them became hotspots for the spread of the novel coronavirus. The 18 Princess Cruises ships will stop sailing for at least two months. The news comes just a few days after the US State Department warned citizens against traveling on cruise ships in order to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.

Anyone currently on board a Princess Cruises trip that’s scheduled to end in the next five days will “continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary so that onward travel arrangements are not disrupted,” the company wrote on Thursday. Any trips currently underway that go beyond March 17th will “be ended at the most convenient location for guests, factoring in operational requirements,” the company said.

Carnival, which owns some 40 percent of the global cruise ship market, said on Thursday that it will offer affected Princess Cruises passengers cash refunds or credit for a future cruise with an additional unspecified “generous future cruise credit benefit.”

While Princess Cruises is just one of around a dozen different cruise lines owned by Carnival, the suspension is one of the more drastic measures taken by a company in the transportation and travel industries since the novel coronavirus started spreading. Many major airlines have also suspended certain routes and are reducing change fees for passengers. (Lufthansa cut about 50 percent of its flights, while US airlines have made more modest adjustments.) Amtrak, meanwhile, has seen its bookings fall 50 percent and cancellations shoot up 300 percent.

Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess ship was one of the first ships caught in the crosshairs of the novel coronavirus outbreak. After a number of passengers on board were believed to have caught the virus, the ship had trouble finding a friendly port and eventually set up outside of Yokohama, Japan. The local government essentially forced the company to keep all 2,700 passengers and 1,000 crew in quarantine on the ship.

This helped the virus spread, but so did a number of other apparent failings on the Princess Cruises and Carnival side of things. The New York Times recently reported that the cruise line’s top doctor and his team missed an email from a passenger alerting them to the fact that they were infected with the novel coronavirus. Even when the company found out, the doctor and his team reportedly “played down the risk of infection, ignored best medical practice for evacuating passengers, and activated only low-level protocols for dealing with outbreaks.”

The US and other governments eventually had to evacuate their own citizens, but not before at least 700 passengers became infected with the virus. Eight of those people have now died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

A similar drama recently played out aboard the Grand Princess, which wound up parked in the waters just outside of San Francisco as the US government decided how to deal with the boat’s sick passengers. Ultimately, many of them were let off at a commercial port in Oakland and sent into quarantine.

“Never in [our] 55 years, and certainly not in the 20 years I have served in this company, have we been tested in the ways we have been tested over the past 40 days,” Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz said in a 7-minute video posted to YouTube. Swartz called the suspension “perhaps the most difficult decision in our history.”

It’s unclear what effect the novel coronavirus outbreak has had on cruise ship bookings, but some people have been drawn to lowered ticket prices, according to recent reports.

“We definitely heard a lot of criticism for going on” a cruise, one cruise ship passenger told Bloomberg this week. “But we decided if we sanitize, it will be fine.”

Meanwhile, the Miami New Times discovered that members of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Miami sales team were using coronavirus misinformation to encourage people to book trips, even as the pandemic spreads.

U.S. government warns people not to take cruises, citing ‘increased risk’ of coronavirus infection on voyages

Passenger John Miller from Seattle, Wash. falls to his knees disembarking from the MS Westerdam cruise ship after being stranded for two weeks now docked in February off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The large cruise ship with more than 2,000 crew and passengers was completely free from COVID-19, but was turned away from five other Asian locations.

Getty Images

Have you planned a cruise? If so, should you cancel due to the spread of the coronavirus epidemic around the world? Cruise-ship companies are rolling out deals as low as $300 for week-long voyages after a slew of bad press related to COVID-19, which may be tempting for some people. But is that enough to step on board given the current climate around coronavirus?

The U.S. State Department says don’t do it. It issued a stern warning over the weekend: “U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.” The department said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance, cautioning travelers of “increased risk of infection of COVID-19 in a cruise ship environment.”

Carnival Corp. is down 52.7% year-to-date. Royal Caribbean is down 61.3%, while Norwegian has fallen 65%. Disney is down 23% year-to-date, as people have been worried about congregating in crowds. The Dow Jones Industrial Index DJIA, 4.700% is down 16.4% year-to-date; and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index SPX, 5.120% has fallen 10.8% this year.

‘U.S. citizens, particularly travelers with underlying health conditions, should not travel by cruise ship.’

— U.S. State Department

“In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict screening procedures that have denied port entry rights to ships and prevented passengers from disembarking,” the State Department said. The city of Santa Barbara has asked cruise ships not to dock there due to the coroanvirus epidemic.

The department said U.S. citizens cannot continue to rely on the U.S. government to intervene on ships that are quarantined at sea, or shunned by other countries. “While the U.S. government has evacuated some cruise ship passengers in recent weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities.”

Worldwide, there were 119,358 COVID-19 cases and 4,290 deaths as of Wednesday morning, according to data published by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. In the U.S., 31 people have died, and there are approximately 1,039 confirmed cases. It has spread to nearly 100 countries in just over three months.

“This is a fluid situation,” the State Department added. “CDC notes that older adults and travelers with underlying health issues should avoid situations that put them at increased risk for more severe disease. This entails avoiding crowded places, avoiding non-essential travel such as long plane trips, and especially avoiding embarking on cruise ships.”

The biggest threats to those contemplating a cruise are the prospect of being quarantined on a vessel should a port refuse to allow the ship to dock and, of course, someone aboard testing positive and the virus spreading among crew members and passengers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously advised people not to take a cruise to or within Asia.

A Princess Cruises ship, the Grand Princess, en route from Hawaii to Mexico, was stranded off the coast of California for five days after an elderly man who had sailed on the ship’s previous voyage died of the new coronavirus last month. Some 21 people tested positive for the coronavirus-borne disease COVID-19 on the ship. The ship was finally allowed to dock in Oakland on Monday.

Speaking about the Grand Princess on Friday, President Trump said he would have preferred if the passengers stayed put, “I’d rather have the people stay. But I’d go with them. I told them to make the final decision. I would rather — because I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

Last month, another Princess Cruises ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined off Japan for two weeks. Dozens of people tested positive for the virus, and seven passengers from that cruise ship have died, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said Saturday. Princess Cruises did not respond to request for comment.

Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell told MarketWatch that the company has strengthened its health screening and boarding protocol that denies boarding to guests who have visited China, Hong Kong, Macao or South Korea, and select areas within Italy within the previous 14 days. “In addition, we have installed thermal scanners in our brands in Asia,” Frizzell said.

Travel on cruise ships is particularly popular among families and the elderly, and the risk of contagion is relatively high on a ship, health professionals have said. Younger children with strong immune systems have the lowest fatality rate from COVID-19, but those with stronger immune systems may be prone to spreading the virus to those most at risk of dying from the disease.

Novel coronavirus has a median incubation period of around 5.1 days. The rate is longer than that other human coronaviruses (3 days) that cause the common cold. The period of incubation can affect how fast illnesses spread. If people get sick from the illness sooner, they are obviously less likely to be walking on the deck, swimming in the pool and, thus, less likely to spread the virus.

After several other high-profile cases of cruises being quarantined and stranded offshore, people have obviously expressed concern about traveling by cruise ship. Cruise lines have updated their cancellation policies to allow passengers, especially elderly passengers who may be worried about congregating in enclosed spaces, to cancel and re-book trips at future dates.

(The Verge & Market Watch)