Carnival Corporation has announced that it’s suspending operations of the Princess Cruises line of ships after two of them became hotspots for the spread of the novel coronavirus. The 18 Princess Cruises ships will stop sailing for at least two months. The news comes just a few days after the US State Department warned citizens against traveling on cruise ships in order to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.
Anyone currently on board a Princess Cruises trip that’s scheduled to end in the next five days will “continue to sail as expected through the end of the itinerary so that onward travel arrangements are not disrupted,” the company wrote on Thursday. Any trips currently underway that go beyond March 17th will “be ended at the most convenient location for guests, factoring in operational requirements,” the company said.
Carnival, which owns some 40 percent of the global cruise ship market, said on Thursday that it will offer affected Princess Cruises passengers cash refunds or credit for a future cruise with an additional unspecified “generous future cruise credit benefit.”
While Princess Cruises is just one of around a dozen different cruise lines owned by Carnival, the suspension is one of the more drastic measures taken by a company in the transportation and travel industries since the novel coronavirus started spreading. Many major airlines have also suspended certain routes and are reducing change fees for passengers. (Lufthansa cut about 50 percent of its flights, while US airlines have made more modest adjustments.) Amtrak, meanwhile, has seen its bookings fall 50 percent and cancellations shoot up 300 percent.
Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess ship was one of the first ships caught in the crosshairs of the novel coronavirus outbreak. After a number of passengers on board were believed to have caught the virus, the ship had trouble finding a friendly port and eventually set up outside of Yokohama, Japan. The local government essentially forced the company to keep all 2,700 passengers and 1,000 crew in quarantine on the ship.
This helped the virus spread, but so did a number of other apparent failings on the Princess Cruises and Carnival side of things. The New York Times recently reported that the cruise line’s top doctor and his team missed an email from a passenger alerting them to the fact that they were infected with the novel coronavirus. Even when the company found out, the doctor and his team reportedly “played down the risk of infection, ignored best medical practice for evacuating passengers, and activated only low-level protocols for dealing with outbreaks.”
The US and other governments eventually had to evacuate their own citizens, but not before at least 700 passengers became infected with the virus. Eight of those people have now died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
A similar drama recently played out aboard the Grand Princess, which wound up parked in the waters just outside of San Francisco as the US government decided how to deal with the boat’s sick passengers. Ultimately, many of them were let off at a commercial port in Oakland and sent into quarantine.
“Never in [our] 55 years, and certainly not in the 20 years I have served in this company, have we been tested in the ways we have been tested over the past 40 days,” Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz said in a 7-minute video posted to YouTube. Swartz called the suspension “perhaps the most difficult decision in our history.”
It’s unclear what effect the novel coronavirus outbreak has had on cruise ship bookings, but some people have been drawn to lowered ticket prices, according to recent reports.
“We definitely heard a lot of criticism for going on” a cruise, one cruise ship passenger told Bloomberg this week. “But we decided if we sanitize, it will be fine.”
Meanwhile, the Miami New Times discovered that members of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Miami sales team were using coronavirus misinformation to encourage people to book trips, even as the pandemic spreads.