Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said he is “very sorry” after 35 crew and one passenger tested positive for COVID-19 on some of the first international cruises to operate since the global pandemic put a stop to virtually all cruise traffic around the world.
Almost 400 passengers now face a mandatory 10-day quarantine, but the company faces criticism for not contacting the passengers quickly enough.
Two crew fell ill
Two crew members had been isolated for several days after falling ill during the return from a week-long cruise to Svalbard on the MS Roald Amundsen. Upon arrival at Tromsø in northern Norway, both tested positive for COVID-19.
Following the news, the rest of the crew were tested. One passenger from a similar voyage the previous week had also tested positive. A third cruise scheduled for next week was immediately cancelled.
The ship remains in dock in Tromsø, where four of the crew were admitted to hospital. They are the first coronavirus cases in the Tromsø hospital since early June.
Tromsø mayor fears local outbreak
The mayor of Tromsø Gunnar Wilhelmsen was highly critical of Hurtigruten for letting hundreds of passengers leave the ship before the extent of the outbreak was known.
The cruise line has still not been able to reach a small number of passengers, which risks further spreading of any potential infection. Wilhelmsen told local newspaper Nordlys that he now fears an outbreak in the city.
At a press conference, Norway’s minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie said how important it is that passengers now comply with the mandatory 10-day quarantine.
Hurtigruten rolled the dice by electing to return to the waters sooner than many other cruise companies. While Norway must now manage a potential public health crisis, the cruise line faces a PR disaster just weeks after announcing a series of new cruise routes in Europe for 2021.
In mid-June, Hurtigruten’s Norwegian coastal ferry service began a slow return to normal operations. On June 26, the line restarted its expedition cruises with a special 15-day cruise from Germany to the Norwegian fjords, followed by a series of Svalbard cruises.
All vessels were operating below capacity to increase the opportunity for adequate social distancing. Despite the outbreak, one passenger told NRK that infection control was taken “very seriously” on board, with frequent reminders to ensure social distancing and hygiene.