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SeaDream Yacht Club has canceled the remainder of its 2020 sailings following the confirmation of nine COVID-19 cases onboard its SeaDream I. The Nov. 7 departure from Barbados was the first Caribbean cruise to resume after the initial suspension of sailings in the region.
“Multiple negative PCR tests were required before the guests boarded, but this was not sufficient to prevent COVID-19 onboard,” said the cruise line in a press release.
A family of five passengers first tested positive followed by a couple and then two crew members. SeaDream I has a maximum capacity of 112 guests, but only 53 passengers, and 66 staff, were onboard at the time, according to Seatrade Cruise News.
In Norway prior to heading to the Caribbean, “SeaDream successfully operated more than 20 sailings during the pandemic without any cases, and further improvements were made to protocols before the Barbados season,” according to the line. “The company will now spend time to evaluate and see if it is possible to operate and have a high degree of certainty of not getting COVID-19.”
Multiple negative PCR tests were required before the guests boarded, but this was not sufficient to prevent COVID-19 onboard.
SeaDream’s attempt to restart cruising in the Caribbean is not unlike UnCruise Adventures’ effort to resume in Alaska, where the small-ship operator’s first and only voyage for the season was forced to end prematurely after a guest tested positive for COVID-19.
Now, it’s up to larger cruise companies to resume cruising with greater success — at least from the U.S. — once Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives them the green light. It’s worth noting that the SeaDream sailing in the Caribbean did not depart from the U.S., nor did it stop anywhere in its territories, and was therefore not operating under CDC’s latest “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order.”
Still, SeaDream, which is a member of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), received criticism on social media after it was discovered that mask wearing was not originally required onboard. However, face coverings are listed as one of CLIA’s mandatory core elements “whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
A duo of travel vloggers known as Cruise with Ben & David were onboard the Caribbean cruise and its crossing beforehand.
“There was very clear social distancing onboard — which was very simple to do on a large vessel with half the capacity,” they tweeted. “Plus, 99% [of our time] was spent outside. This was not a normal cruise ship, it's actually legally registered as a yacht because of the size. The yacht had under half the capacity of crew and passengers. Literally so much outside area. Not to justify no masks, but this wasn't a 5,000-person ship.”
In fact, SeaDream did send out a letter to passengers on Nov. 11 that it would implement mandatory mask wearing, but only when unable to socially distance at least six feet from other guests.
In either case, the virus had already made its way onboard.
The question that remains is how this incident will affect broader efforts to restart cruising from the U.S. in the near future. CDC is currently requiring test cruises and certification of individual ships before permitting them to resume, probably in early 2021.
Even though SeaDream sailing was outside the jurisdiction of CDC and other U.S. authorities, the incident has prompted two members of Congress to encourage CDC to reimplement its No-Sail Order.
A letter from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) reads, “We implore you to extend the prior No-Sail Order until a time when the health and safety of passengers and crew can be assured.”
The letter, which asks for a response from CDC director Robert Redfield by Nov. 27, further points out that “despite [rigorous pre-sail testing], the virus was still able to infect multiple people on the ship.”
If nothing else, SeaDream’s case study does cast doubt on the reliability of COVID-19 testing alone, which is why CLIA’s measures are multilayered. Even if a COVID-19 case is detected on a larger ship, its sheer size makes isolation and any select quarantine easier to handle without disturbing the rest of the guests.