On February 4, 2020, ten people tested positive for the COVID-19 virus onboard the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship. By February 28, more than 700 people tested positive for the virus, and thirteen people have now been confirmed dead [1,2].
The Diamond Princess has not been the only cruise line that has experienced severe coronavirus outbreaks. At least seven other Carnival cruise ships have experienced outbreaks that have resulted in more than 1500 infections and at least 39 deaths .
Cruise Ship Outbreaks Raise Questions of Corporate Negligence
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), believe that these cruise ships have helped fuel the pandemic. Many experts are arguing that Carnival executives were aware that there was a problem, but failed to take action when they should have.
Cindy Friedman, the experienced epidemiologist who leads the CDC’s cruise ship task force, points out that many of the Carnival ships that had outbreaks went ahead with their voyages, even after knowing the risk.
Australian police are now conducting a criminal investigation into whether or not the company misled authorities about an outbreak on one of their ships that docked in Sydney. Costa Cruises, one of the company’s subsidiaries, is now being sued by multiple passengers over its response to the COVID-19 outbreak onboard the ship .
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The Party Didn’t Stop
More than one month before the outbreak on the Grand Princess, Wallem Group, one of the company’s sanitation vendors, sent an email alert to the ship’s chief administrative officer informing them that a passenger was being treated for the virus in Hong Kong and that the ship should perform the necessary disinfection procedures.
The company, however, did not inform passengers that they might have been exposed to the virus for another 43 hours.
According to passengers on the ship, even after informing all of the guests on board of the situation, nothing really changed. Everyone kept eating and drinking at buffets and bars, congregating in lounges, hanging out in saunas, and attending shows. Some guests have reported that staff was encouraging people to mingle .
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Carnival CEO Arnold Donald has said that his company’s response was reasonable under the circumstances and that in an unprecedented global event such as this, there were things they did right and things they did wrong.
He described each ship as its own mini-city and said that Carnival’s response should not be condemned before analyzing the responses of other hot-spot areas, like New York, Italy, or China.
“We’re a small part of the real story,” he said. “We’re being pulled along by it.” 
Carnival canceled all of its cruises in mid-March and has said that they are doing everything they can to protect and treat their remaining passengers.
When asked why Carnival didn’t act sooner to put quarantine measures in place despite having already been alerted about a possibly deadly infection, the company defended itself, saying that it is easy in hindsight to say what should and shouldn’t have been done and that the company did it’s best to take care of its people.
Carnival executives say they refunded everyone’s tickets and onboard purchases, provided free internet access during the quarantines, and assisted with post-cruise travel accommodations, and that they are proud of how they served their customers on board these ships.
“There are many loyal Princess guests who have told us that this has actually cemented Princess as their No. 1 vacation choice,” claimed Jan Swartz, president of Carnival’s Princess Cruises division .
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Remaining at Sea
As of early April, nearly one month after the CDC issued an advisory that all cruise ship travel should be cancelled, Carnival still had ships at sea. A spokesperson for the company said that Carnival is under no obligation to follow the CDC’s advice, stating that the advisory was “not an edict”.
Cruise ship executives have asserted that cruise ships don’t spread disease more easily than it would elsewhere, claiming that it could spread just as quickly in an airport terminal, a subway station, a restaurant, a theater, a stadium. Many of the cruise ships have shown an infection rate of nearly twenty percent, however, much higher than the global average .
The CDC’s cruise ship task force has also pointed out that had these ships stopped sailing, their team could have been instead helping states and local public health authorities manage community outbreaks.
Donald has claimed that because of port closures, many of their ships were unable to dock.
“It’s not because we want them all on the ships. It’s because things close down and we couldn’t get them off.”
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No Bailout for Carnival
Carnival, along with other cruise ship companies, has been left out of federal bailout for US companies, because legally, they are not incorporated in America. Carnival is actually incorporated in Panama, an offshore tax haven.
“They have flown under international flags, and abated or skirted taxes, with a record of predatory conduct. They need to prove that they’re going to follow American norms and laws,” said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut .
Despite all of this, half of the customers who had to cancel their planned trips opted instead to take credit for future cruises, and many have said they will cruise with the company again.
One can only hope that this pandemic will create positive change in the way of corporate responsibility and that large companies, including cruise lines, will begin to be held accountable for their actions that hurt society.
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