The Latest on the SeaDream 1 COVID-19 Debacle – What Went Wrong?
The Latest Number of Infected
The highly publicized debacle of the SeaDream 1 COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold. The last count of people infected during the cruise increased to nine (7 guests and 2 crew members) so far. There may be more people infected who are scattered around the world. Incredibly, last weekend the cruise line arranged for 46 passengers who were potentially infected on the ship to travel on commercial international flights to their respective home countries which have been identified as the U.S., England, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany, according to a local newspaper, and, according to travel writers, Canada as well.
No Contact Tracing on the Flights From Barbados
These 46 passengers are still in the incubation period for the virus. There appears to be no interest by SeaDream in staying in touch with its guests who have returned home to various parts of North America, Europe and the U.K. and learning whether they were infected during the cruise. There is no way for anyone to track whether the departing guests infected fellow travelers in the commercial aircraft flying from Barbados, in the airport terminals, in taxis to the airport or trams to the airplanes.
One travel writer wrote “I still wonder why we were allowed to leave Barbados rather than made to quarantine . . . ” She added that the cruise guests were crowded into buses ending in a “virtual stampede” of passengers with “masks dangling off one ear,” onto a British Airways (BA) aircraft for the long flight back to England. Other cruise bloggers, who posted a photo of travelers crowded on the airstairs up to the jet, complained that they were required to leave the country of Barbados rather than be quarantined. They commented on their YouTube channel that they were “stuffed” along with ten other cruise guests into a completely full BA flight with prople coughing, sneezing and not wearing their masks properly. One travel writer commented that she was surprised that no one from SeaDream checked on her once she had returned home to Engalnd to determine whether she was experiencing any symptoms.
No Masks, No Pre-Cruise Quarantine, No Post-Infection Quarantine, and Commercial Flights Home
The media has focused on SeaDream’s outrageous decision not to have a mask policy but has largely ignored the fact that the cruise line affirmatively dissuaded its guests from wearing masks on the ship. A local newspaper in Barbados quotes a vice president for SeaDream as saying “We do not want people to wear masks onboard. . .”
The media has also largely ignored the fact that SeaDream encouraged guests from the U.S. (with its out-of-control COVID rate) to fly to Barbados on the day of embarkation with the intention of Barbados classifying them as ‘in transit’ so that they could bypass the island’s current 14-day quarantine. Once the COVID-19 outbreak took place, SeaDream refused to transfer all remaining passengers or crew (other than those who tested positive) from their cabins to quarantines, isolation rooms ashore.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which SeaDream claims that its policies are aligned with, requires cruise operators to “arrange to disembark and transport passengers and crew using noncommercial transportation.” The CDC also requires cruise operators to make “housing agreements” with “shoreside facilities for isolation and quarantine of COVID-19 cases and close contacts.” SeaDream obviously made no effort after the cruise to isolate and quarantine the passengers ashore at the home port in Barbados.
The cruise line also ignored its obligation to “inform ground transportation, air charter operators, and other agencies with relevant jurisdiction that COVID-19 had been detected in passengers or crew and confirm that the operators have in place procedures to notify and protect the health and safety of their staff (e.g., drivers, aircrew)”, as required by the CDC (as well as common sense and human decency).
SeaDream continues to tout that it required “multiple negative PCR tests” before boarding, but it fails to fully understand that even truly vigorous testing does not guarantee a safe environment particularly when masks are not worn. You do not need to be an epidemiologist to understand this. All you have to remember is the disastrous “super-spreader” event at the White House and Rose Garden. Yes, there was extensive testing but dozens of members of the current administration became infected after they chose not to wear a mask.
A Beach Guarded by Armed Police
A little known fact is that SeaDream 1 stopped at a beach in St. Vincent called the “back sand beach” in Mt. Wynne after the police cleared locals from the public beach. One travel writer on the cruise euphemistically explained that the excursion was “supervised by police.” But the local people in St. Vincent viewed it differently. One person living in St. Vincent described the police force as the “Black Squad.” She sent me a photograph of the spectacle, writing “this is an image of heavily armed police officers deterring local people from that lovely black sand beach …”
Contact Tracing in St. Vincent
After the excursion to the beach, a number of guests took a catamaran excursion to the Tobago Cays archipelago and marine sanctuary in St. Vincent. Most travel writers mention that they previously had no or minimal contact with local residents, but there is no question that some of the cruise guests interacted with employees of the tour company. After this excursion, news of the COVID outbreak on the SeaDream ship was widely discussed on the radio in St. Vincent and local newspapers with one paper reporting that contact tracing was initiated to protect the local excursion employees potentially exposed by the cruise guests.
Just How “Successful” Have European Sailings Really Been?
SeaDream and its supporters point out that the company successfully operated more than 20 sailings in Norway since June without any cases. Perhaps this is true, but past success does not guarantee a safe future, particularly when you reposition the ship to the Caribbean and invite guests from the U.S. where COVID-19 cases are now surging to over 180,000 per day (as of yesterday).
It has also been largely under-reported that there have been over 195 people infected during cruises in Europe, notwithstanding new health protocols invariably described by the cruise companies as “rigorous.” There have been four outbreaks on river cruise lines in the past seventy-five days where over 90 people were infected. Ten crew members were infected on the MS Thurgau Chopin (formerly the MS Frederic Chopin) river cruise ship operated by Swiss company Thurgau Travel. Sixty of ninety-two passengers (two-thirds) who sailed on the river cruise ship MS Swiss Crystal were infected on a cruise on the Danube and Main within the last three weeks. In early September, eight guests and crew members on a CroisiEurope river cruise ship on the Douro River in Portugal tested positive for COVID-19. Three weeks ago, German newspapers reported that at least thirteen people were infected on another river cruise ship, MS Vista Serenity, on the Moselle River in Germany. In some of these cases, the local newspapers reported that passengers left the ship without realizing that there had been an outbreak on board.
In addition, 74 people were infected on Hurtigruten cruise ships, including the MS Roald Amundsen (71) and MS Finnmarken (3 with 1 death). Costa Cruises and MSC Cruises also recently experienced outbreaks on their cruise ships. Eight people were infected on the Costa Diadema and eight people also tested positive on the MSC Grandiosa.
Silversea’s Silver Spirit also had one COVID-19 case in early September during a Red Sea cruise.
A Ponant cruise ship, the Jacques-Cartier, was involved in a COVID-19 outbreak where thirteen people were infected. The ship was initially delayed in leaving an Italian port. On its website, the Compagnie du Ponant boasted of exceptional cruises in “an anti-Covid bubble” with “its state-of-the-art health protocols.”
Back to the Drawing Board?
In a press release finally issued yesterday, SeaDream announced that it decided to cancel sailing for the remainder of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Incredibly, it also stated that 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.”
Here’s a hint: No, its not.
The SeaDream 1 outbreak provides further proof that a cruise line cannot magically create a “bubble” to keep passengers and crew members safe from COVID. Absent a tested and effective vaccine, it is not possible to safely cruise during this pandemic.
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Photos: SeaDream 1 – SeaDream Yacht Club.