The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the cruise industry. The global outbreak has caused major problems for hospitality and travel in general, but the nature of the cruise industry, in particular, presents unique issues, including forcing potentially infected passengers to spend weeks in close proximity to one another, with limited medical care.
Under these new circumstances, cruise lines are often unable to guarantee the safety of their customers. The result has been a cessation of operations and employees stranded on ships, waiting to be repatriated to their home countries. Some companies have been sued for their alleged inadequate response to the crisis.
Problems Faced by Cruise Lines
The primary issue that cruise companies must deal with during the pandemic is providing a clean and sanitized environment. Thousands of people must live together in close quarters for weeks, eating, drinking, and socializing in close proximity, and touching surfaces that may be contaminated. While evidence suggests that COVID-19 is not spread through food, its ability to spread through HVAC systems is unclear. Also at issue is the ability of a cruise ship to spread contagion to other cities worldwide, as the ship makes stops for tours and excursions.
Frequent cruise ship passengers tend to be older, above 65 years of age. This age group is at a higher risk than the general population of suffering severe effects or death from the COVID-19 virus, and their medical needs are more extensive.
Health care on cruise ships is very limited. Even a large ship may only have a couple of doctors and a few nurses on board. A small medical staff such as this can be incredibly inadequate to deal with a major disease outbreak among the passengers. Ships must have medical staff on-call 24 hours a day, but this could mean that the limited staff becomes overworked during a viral outbreak.
How Can Cruise Lines Protect Their Passengers and Crew?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control provides federal guidelines for cruise ships in the form of the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP). While these rules primarily address gastrointestinal and not respiratory illnesses, some of the recommendations overlap with CDC advice for the prevention of COVID-19 infection. A Carnival spokesperson has noted that the company has implemented protocols including monitoring guests for fever as well as additional procedures for cleaning and sanitation.
In response to the pandemic, the CDC announced an industry-wide No-Sail Order on March 14. The order remains in effect until July 24, or until the CDC director decides to rescind or modify the order, or the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares that COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency. The order applies to all commercial passenger ships that carry more than 250 guests and where an overnight stay is anticipated.
Current Cruise-Related Lawsuits
It can be difficult to sue cruise companies, as they enjoy a number of protections, and are often not U.S. companies and not subject to many safety regulations that would normally protect customers and employees. Still, many cruise lines are facing lawsuits related to their response to the crisis:
- Carnival Cruise Lines has been sued by more than 60 passengers for failing to protect them from COVID-19. The lawsuit alleges that Carnival failed to sanitize the Grand Princess ship between voyages and didn’t screen new passengers for the disease.
- Costa Cruises has been sued in federal court by passengers of the Costa Luminosa vessel, alleging the company acted negligently in response to an outbreak on the ship. Three passengers on that voyage have died from COVID-19 so far.
- Royal Caribbean is facing a wrongful death suit after two crew members were airlifted off the Oasis of the Seas vessel, and a 27-year-old member of the Celebrity Infinity crew died from the virus.
- Holland America has been hit with a lawsuit after an outbreak of COVID-19 on their MS Zaandam vessel in March. The ship set sail from Buenos Aires on March 7 and stopped in Montevideo, Uruguay, and the Falkland Islands before the trip was canceled a week later.
Each cruise line has made their own decision as to when to resume sailing:
- Carnival plans to deny boarding to all guests age 70 or older unless they have a letter of fitness from their physician. Carnival cruises in North America are suspended through September 30, except for Carnival Legend, suspended through October 30, and Carnival Radiance, canceled through November 2. They will suspend their Australian cruises through August 31.
- Costa Cruises has suspended all cruises through August 15, and their Northern Europe cruises through the remainder of the summer season.
- Holland America is suspending global operations of its fleet through Fall 2020.
- Norwegian Cruise Line has suspended operations through September 30, and intends to resume sailing on October 1.
- Royal Caribbean has canceled its sailings until September 16, except for voyages to China, which they hope to resume in August.
Start dates will depend greatly on the progress of the outbreak at the time and whether there is a second wave of the virus in the fall.
What Cruise Passengers Should Expect in The Future
Guests should expect additional safety measures, such as pre-boarding health screenings, periodic temperature checks, and the suspension of buffets. Companies are expected to enhance their sterilization procedures and monitor public spaces, closing them early each day for deep cleaning. Ship crews will be trained in new procedures to combat outbreaks, and ships may expand their medical facilities and add new medical staff. Shore excursions will adopt protocols for the requirements of each port.
Global cruise lines represent a $45 billion industry, serving more than 20 million passengers a year. The cruise companies continue to make changes to make their vessels safer for the public, but there is much work to be done. Until there is a vaccine in place, cruise lines will remain in a frustrating state of limbo, and may continue to face litigative hurdles.
Contact a Cruise Ship Injury Attorney Today
Cruise lines are often international companies that are not subject to U.S. safety regulations, making cruise line legal cases particularly complex. However, the cruise line attorneys at Louis A. Vucci P.A. are highly experienced in this area of law. We have the skills and resources needed to uphold your rights and secure the full and fair compensation you need.
If you’ve suffered from COVID-19 or if you have lost a loved one to COVID-19 as a result of traveling on a cruise ship, don’t hesitate to contact our attorneys at (786) 375-0344 to schedule a free consultation. We’ll fight for the justice you deserve.