Major blow for cruises as COVID-19 outbreak swamps one of the first sailings to return

Norwegian cruise line Huritgruten became one of the first in Europe to take to the seas once again after months docked during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. However, following its 7-day cruise which departed on July 24, a new outbreak of the virus was detected onboard.

The expedition cruise ship Roald Amundsen sailed from Tromsø, Norway on July 24 with 177 passengers and 160 crew onboard.

However, during the sailing, it is reported that a number of crew members began to feel unwell – though were not showing traditional signs of COVID-19.

Given the prominence of the pandemic, those crew members were isolated, however, on August 1 the cruise line revealed that following tests a number of other workers were also found to be carrying the virus.

“Four crew members were confirmed positive Friday,” a statement on the Hurtigruten website reads.

“Extensive testing of the entire crew has concluded that additional 32 crew members are confirmed as COVID-19 positive. 122 of the crew have tested negative.”

According to the cruise line, three guests have also since tested positive.

“The initial four crew members that were infected were isolated several days ago because of other disease symptoms, showing no symptoms of COVID-19,” continues the statement.

“They were routinely tested before being admitted to hospital in Tromsø, Norway Friday morning.”

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Hurtigruten is in contact with all guests that were onboard MS Roald Amundsen’s 24 departures, all of whom are now reported to be quarantining in line with Norwegian health regulations.

A further 209 passengers who were travelling aboard the previous sailing, departing on July 17, have also been notified and requested to self-isolate.

All passengers continue to be tested by the cruise company.

Hurtiggruten was at the forefront of resuming cruising in Europe, initially offering cruises to Norway out of Hamburg, Germany onboard its passenger ship Fridtjof Nansen in June.

It later added cruises to Svalbard on the Roald Amundsen and the 335-passenger Spitsbergen the in July.

However, it seems sailings are on hold again, as the company presses ahead with investigating the incident.

“We are now focusing all available efforts in taking care of our guests and colleagues,” said Hurtigruten VP Global Communications Rune Thomas Ege.

“We work closely with the Norwegian national and local health authorities for follow-up, information, further testing, and infection tracking.

“The safety and well-being of our guests and crew is Hurtigruten’s number one priority. All crew members are closely monitored and screened daily,” he added.

“Non-Norwegian crew members are quarantined before boarding the ship, and non-European crew need to undergo two negative COVID-19 tests before even leaving their home country.”

All planned cruises are now on hold, and the next sailing from the line will not take place until September.

What does this mean for future cruises?

The new outbreak is a blow for the industry, which has been working hard to put in place new safety and hygiene measures.

Major lines Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean have joined forces in a bid to develop new standards on board their ships.

The companies hope to find new ways to enhance the health and hygiene measures currently implemented on big-name cruises as part of their “Healthy Sail Panel” initiative.

However, despite the positive moves, travel journalist Simon Calder has said he believes cruises have been “hit the hardest”. 

“Travel is the industry of human happiness,” he said, “but I must say I’m not confident that cruising will come back.”

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