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Resuming cruising: A complex challenge

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Over the last few weeks, we have seen a small number of cruise lines resume operations in specific areas, with extensive new health and safety protocols in place.

Close media scrutiny of this careful restart, combined with transparent communications from the cruise community, have meant that there has been high awareness of reported COVID-19 infections on board some of these ships. But is this such bad news as some of the coverage has suggested?

In fact what we have seen in most cases (Hurtigruten excepted) is evidence of the success of the cruise lines' anti-virus strategy. Let's take a look at the three cases...

First of all, Paul Gauguin in French Polynesia. As required by the health protocol in force in French Polynesia, a double test is applied to all foreign passengers boarding the ship. The first must take place a maximum of three days before the international flight, the second four days after arrival in French Polynesia.

Paul Gauguin Cruises in the South Pacific

The first test of the passenger concerned was negative before her departure from the United States. The second test carried out on board, on 1st August, was transmitted to the Polynesian authorities, and was positive. Immediately, the captain of the ship was advised, the vessel turned round and returned to the departure point, Papeete, while the infected passenger, an asymptomatic 22-year-old woman, was confined in a special cabin. All passengers and crew members were also placed in isolation.

On arrival in Papeete, the passenger and her mother, who were travelling together, were disembarked under sanitary corridor and received in a hotel provided for that purpose. All other passengers and crew members tested negative. Disembarkation under sanitary corridor was arranged for all passengers. Crew members remain in quarantine on board for seven days, and everyone is to be retested within seven days.

Text book. It is like the perfect case study in managing and containing coronavirus infection.

In the case of SeaDream Yacht Club, a Danish guest tested positive a few days after returning from her SeaDream cruise in Norway. SeaDream immediately suspended operations, and all passengers and crew on board SeaDream I were advised and tested. Nobody tested positive, and the ship was able to resume sailing.

SeaDream Yacht Club cruising the Norwegian Fjords

Meanwhile on the first Alaska sailing this summer on board UnCruise Expeditions' Wilderness Adventurer, an infected passenger tested negative prior to departing from home, but a second test taken upon arrival at Juneau airport resulted in a positive test. Once again, the guest was asymptomatic, and the vessel was returned immediately to Juneau where its crew and passengers will be quarantined and tested.

So overall what we are seeing is the system working exactly as it should. Whereas in the case of Hurtigruten, it worked exactly as it shouldn't, and to be fair the company's CEO, Daniel Skjeldam, has taken full responsibility in his statement.

"A preliminary evaluation shows that there have been weaknesses in several of our internal procedures," Skjeldam said last week. "This is a serious situation for everyone affected. We haven't been good enough, and we have made mistakes. On behalf of all of us working at Hurtigruten, I'm sorry for what has happened. We are taking full responsibility."

Hurtigruten - MS Roald Amundsen in Canada

Of course it's still early days, but I think we can state that this has been an educational lesson in virus containment, which should give us confidence in the way forward, in particular once speedier testing is available. It's also important to note that a number of other cruise lines have resumed operations without any problems so far, including Ponant's summer programmes in France, Iceland and Svalbard, Hapag-Lloyd sailing out of Hamburg, and European river cruise lines including CroisiEurope, A-Rosa and Nicko Cruises.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

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