Norwegian outbreak shows cruise ships vulnerability (again)

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The first rehearsals for a restart of cruise shipping are by no means flawless. On board the Norwegian ship Roald Amundsen at least 40 cases of Covid-19 were found during two voyages, of which 36 were among the crew and at least four among passengers.

The cruise ship has completed two seven-day cruise trips between Norwegian Tromsø and Spitsbergen in recent weeks. It moored in the port of Tromsø last Friday, after at least four staff members had symptoms of illness along the way.

Shipping company Hurtigruten, owner of the ship, has since admitted that it has not complied with its own regulations. The mainly Filipino crew should have been quarantined prior to sailing, but according to a statement from the shipping company, that did not happen. The Norwegian authorities are investigating the company and its state of affairs on the ship.

Norway in particular has had a relatively strict corona regime in recent months. Norwegians have been forbidden to visit their country cottages for a long time. Prime Minister Erna Solberg was proud that the number of infections compared to neighboring countries such as Sweden remained relatively low. Norway has 255 deaths with 5.5 million inhabitants. There have been few major outbreaks so far.

‘Alarm raised too late’

What makes this outbreak even more painful is that the shipping company has failed to raise the alarm at the first indications of illness. For example, there was initially no firm intervention because the symptoms according to Hurtigruten did not correspond to those of Covid-19. Also, according to the authorities, the company did not start informing (former) travelers in time.

This means that the effect of the outbreak on the ship can be much greater, because hundreds of mainly Norwegian passengers may have taken the virus home. An estimated 69 municipalities in Norway may have caught the virus within its borders.

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The shipping company decided on Monday to temporarily take out of service the three ships it had in service. It also says it has now informed all passengers.

The outbreak in Norway is not the only one in cruise shipping at the moment. In French Polynesia in the Pacific, Paul Gaugain bobs, with at least one suspected case of Covid-19. Passengers have been asked to stay in their cabins and the ship is now heading for Tahiti. The island group, heavily dependent on tourism, has a relatively flexible admission policy for international travelers.

Small-scale start-up

The cruise sector has been trying to start up again on a small scale for a month and a half, after the billion-dollar industry came to a standstill from February. Even then, it was often the Asian crew who became frequently infected due to poor housing and hygiene measures, just like in Norway.

In the meantime, there have recently been mini-cruises from TUI with ‘Mein Schiff 2’ from Hamburg, with no mooring on the way. There were 1,200 candidates for the first departure. Taiwan also allows cruises again, as far as we know without contamination cases. And it has been allowed in Greece since last Saturday.

These are all test cases for the bigger boys, like the American Carnival Cruises, which has nearly 80 ships with all its subsidiaries. Such shipping companies burn hundreds of millions of dollars a month as long as their entire fleet is anchored and staff are unemployed at home.

Most major cruise operators have suspended their voyages until at least September 30 because they have to comply with complex regulations of flag states, regimes in ports of call and ports to visit, and regulations of bodies such as the International Maritime Organization.

Giants like Carnival Corp. are also highly dependent on the US home market severely hit by corona. There is a sailing ban there, which has recently been extended to October. Carnival has already had to raise at least 5 billion dollars (4.3 billion euros) in the capital market, at interest rates of more than ten percent, to ensure that it will still exist next year.

In his last mailing to regular customers, Michael Bayley tries to remain positive. The boss of Royal Caribbean International, also American with almost thirty ships, is currently mainly concerned with getting previously stranded personnel home and customer service overwhelmed by cancellations. “There are calm seas ahead. It is not the question if, but the question when ”, he concludes his contribution.

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