Executives at Carnival Cruise Lines were aware of the potential danger that the coronavirus posed to passengers and crew but let ships set sail anyway, an explosive new report alleges.
The beleaguered cruise company, which has seen more than 1,500 positive diagnoses and 39 deaths on its fleet of ships, ignored warnings and didn’t take proper safety precautions until it was too late, according to Bloomberg.
On the Grand Princess, which received notice on March 4 that the Center for Disease Control was “investigating a small cluster” of cases in California that were linked to the ship, passengers were still treated to live shows, crowded buffets and all the shopping and amenities the ship had to offer.
The next day, when a shelter-in-place was ordered by the ship’s captain, passengers rushed to shop and hit the buffet before returning to their rooms.
Executives including CEO Arnold Donald knew about the virus’ spread in China as early as January, when Carnival’s innovation chief John Padgett was in touch with a manufacturer in Wuhan — the epicenter of China’s virus problem, according to the Thursday report.
“The biggest thing about that — it’s a learning I don’t think I’ll ever forget, and we shared it with Arnold when we were talking — is that we actually had insight into the global situation much earlier than most,” he said.
CEO Donald defended Carnival’s response to what he described as a “generational global event,” arguing that it is no different from national and local governments that were slow to react to the growing pandemic. He claimed that Carnival’s ships are not inherently more dangerous than airports, restaurants or stadiums.
“Each ship is a mini-city,” he told Bloomberg, adding that critics should also analyze “what New York did to deal with the crisis, what the vice president’s task force did, what the Italians, Chinese, South Koreans and Japanese did. We’re a small part of the real story. We’re being pulled along by it.”
Cindy Friedman, who leads the CDC’s cruise ship task force, pointed out that her team has found coronavirus infection rates aboard ships much higher than at other public places, adding that cruise customers are generally older and at greater risk of contracting the disease.
“If these ships had stopped sailing, our large team could all be working on helping states and local public health authorities with their community outbreaks,” she said.
Carnival still had ships at sea earlier this month, according to the report, nearly a month after the CDC issued an advisory to “defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.” A Carnival spokesperson said that the company did not need to follow the guidelines, saying that “the advisory is not an edict.”
Friedman said that a number of Carnival ships did not begin their trips until “well after” the company knew it was risky to do so.
Still, Carnival believes that the measures it has taken to take care of guests on ships that have been quarantined will make them even more likely to vacation with it again.
“There are many loyal Princess guests who have told us that this has actually cemented Princess as their No. 1 vacation choice,” Jan Swartz, the president of the company’s cruise division said.
Indeed, at least some passengers are inclined to agree, with many accepting Carnival’s offer of vouchers toward a future voyage instead of a cash refund.
“The more you travel with them, the more goodies they give you,” a Diamond Princess passenger told Bloomberg. “It’s like rats and cocaine.”
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