A Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew flies over the cruise ship, Carnival Pride, approximately 75 miles north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jan. 16, 2020. (Coast Guard photo)

Lawmakers Want Scrutiny as Carnival Cruises Prepares to Resume Operations

Some senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee are urging the panel to probe whether cruise lines are equipped to safely resume operations as Carnival announced plans to resume some operations in August.

Carnival Cruise Lines announced Monday a plan to “phase in” resumption of North American service beginning Aug. 1 with the Carnival Dream, Carnival Freedom and Carnival Vista from Galveston; the Carnival Horizon, Carnival Magic and Carnival Sensation from Miami; and the Carnival Breeze and Carnival Elation from Port Canaveral. All other North American and Australian homeport cruises are canceled through Aug. 31.

All Carnival Spirit Alaskan cruises from Seattle are canceled along with the Carnival Spirit Vancouver-Honolulu cruise on Sept. 25 and the Honolulu-Brisbane transpacific cruise on Oct. 6.

The company issued an update the same day stating that “some of the media reports have not fully conveyed the contents of our previous media statement and why certain itineraries were not being cancelled.”

“Carnival reiterates that this is our current plan contingent on a number of factors,” the company continued. “Any resumption of cruise operations – whenever that may be – is fully dependent on our continued efforts in cooperation with federal, state, local and international government officials. In our continued support of public health efforts, any return to service will also include whatever enhanced operational protocols and social gathering guidelines that are in place at the time of the resumption of cruise operations.”

“We are committed to supporting all public health efforts to manage the COVID-19 situation and will continue to keep our guests, travel agent partners and other stakeholders informed.”

On Wednesday, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asking that the panel “exercise its oversight authority of maritime transportation issues to investigate disturbing reports regarding the Carnival Corporation & PLC’s handling of COVID-19 outbreaks aboard its vessels.”

“We have serious concerns about any effort to resume cruise ship operations prematurely – without robust oversight to insure the health and safety of passengers and crew,” the senators wrote, calling Carnival’s statement on resumption of operations “particularly concerning given the cruise line industry’s problematic track record of managing, containing, and responding to the current pandemic.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s no-sail order for cruise ships was extended to April 15 and will expire on July 24, but could be lifted earlier if Health and Human Services takes the unlikely step of declaring that COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency.

“Outbreaks of infectious diseases can happen on cruise ships because people spend time close together and with travelers from many countries. Disease can spread between ships when crew members from a ship with an outbreak transfer to other ships,” CDC said. “Infected people may also travel on cruise ships between countries. For these reasons, outbreaks of COVID-19 on cruise ships pose a risk for rapid spread of disease beyond the voyage and into communities across the globe.”

The order applies to all commercial passenger vessels in U.S. waters “with the capacity to carry more than 250 people and where an overnight stay onboard by passengers or crew is anticipated.”

Blumenthal and Markey cited reports that at least 39 deaths and more than 1,500 COVID-19 infections have been confirmed in connection with Carnival cruises. “Even now, as cruise ship passengers have returned home, nearly 80,000 crew members remain stranded on about 100 cruise ships in or near U.S. ports,” they wrote, adding that the cruise line continuing voyages after the pandemic had become a threat was “at best sheer incompetence and at worst corporate negligence” that deserves Senate scrutiny.

“We ask that the Committee’s investigation is broad and comprehensive as the situation continues to evolve,” they said, asking that hearings be held with leaders of the cruise line industry and public health experts.

Holland America Line announced Wednesday that it has canceled all Alaska, Europe and Canada/New England cruises for the year.

“As we continue to navigate through these unprecedented and challenging times, the best decision right now is to extend our pause in cruise operations into the fall,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line. “While this is very disappointing and we never want to let our guests down, as soon as it makes sense we will be back cruising again, giving our guests the memorable travel experiences they continue to dream about.”

Royal Caribbean announced in mid-April that it was expecting to return to service June 12. This week, the family of a crew member who worked in housekeeping on Symphony of the Seas and died after testing positive for COVID-19 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, arguing that the cruise line failed to take protective measures to keep crew members from contracting the virus.

Princess Cruises announced Wednesday that it is canceling cruises through the end of the summer season “due to reduced air flight availability, the closure of cruise ports in regions around the world and other factors impacting international travel.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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