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When I wrote my “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” piece about ocean cruising earlier this week, little did I know that the momentum would again shift so fast.
Just days ago, COVID-19 outbreaks onboard Hurtigruten and Paul Gauguin Cruises ships were casting shadows on the industry’s resumption of service, but UnCruise Adventures’ sailing from Juneau, Alaska — the very first Alaskan cruise of 2020 — seemed to mark a triumphant and hopeful return.
Now, UnCruise and SeaDream Yacht Club are reporting coronavirus cases.
UnCruise’s Wilderness Explorer carried just 36 passengers when it departed the Alaskan capital city on Saturday, but one guest has since tested positive for COVID-19.
The cruise line has indicated that the infected passenger initially tested negative, which was a requirement to sail. However, the results of a second test from the State of Alaska have now come back as positive. While no guests or crew are currently showing symptoms, the ship is returning to Juneau where passengers will need to quarantine before returning home.
“With the spotlight on the cruise and small boat industry, we understand there are risks in operating and travel in general,” according to a statement on the line’s website. “With months of preparation we were still able to pivot quickly in response to this event. This unprecedented virus requires unprecedented standards and continues to change. Our focal point is to continue to improve for the future of travel and our industry. We thank those that have worked rapidly to isolate and implement the appropriate processes as we determine the next steps.”
For now, UnCruise has canceled all remaining Alaska voyages for the year — likely making this sailing the first and last cruise of any kind for the entire 2020 season.
This unprecedented virus requires unprecedented standards and continues to change.
SeaDream is also reporting that a passenger onboard its previous SeaDream I voyage has tested positive upon returning home to Denmark despite showing no symptoms onboard.
As a precaution, the vessel is heading towards Bodo, Norway while its current guests sequester in their staterooms. The cruise line has also notified passengers who were on the preceding affected cruise.
"We sincerely hope that there is no COVID-19 onboard, and we are not aware of any other guests or crew who are infected or have any symptoms, but we are taking all necessary precautions,” said the line in a press release. “All guests and crew were informed, as well as the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Directorate of Health as soon as we received the information this afternoon.”
What remains quite curious is how four small-ship cruise lines have had instances of coronavirus, but TUI Cruises’ 1,200 passengers onboard Mein Schiff 2, a substantially larger ship, had no such issues last week. Was it better prepared? Were present cases simply asymptomatic?
Another large ship operator, MSC Cruises, just announced its plans to safely return to the Mediterranean Sea, and among its rigorous measures is universal testing of all guests and crew at the terminal or shortly before. There is reason to believe that these rapid tests may be the way to ensure healthy shipmates — at least at the time of embarkation.
But doubts are surfacing as coronavirus cases continue to rear their ugly heads, and other lines may be asking whether it’s too soon to start back up. Crystal Cruises, for instance, recently canceled all its ocean and yacht sailings for the rest of 2020.
Time will tell if more companies follow suit or if the industry chugs ahead with hopefully better luck next time. Meanwhile, Cruise Lines International Association announced today the third voluntary suspension of U.S. cruising until at least Oct. 31.