Royal Caribbean falsely blames CDC for keeping crew trapped on its ships, agency says

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI — Cruise captains on Friday continued to mislead crew members stranded on cruise ships about their ability to go home.

In announcements on several Royal Caribbean ships, captains told crew members that a story published by the Miami Herald on Thursday was untrue, according to audio recordings obtained by the Herald. That story said that cruise executives were refusing to sign agreements with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would allow crew members to disembark and be repatriated.

In an interview Friday, an official from the CDC reiterated that it is allowing crew members to leave, provided cruise companies agree to CDC rules.

Around 100,000 crew members have been trapped on ships in and around U.S. waters since the industry shut down March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including several U.S. citizens.

The CDC allows crew members to get off the ships and travel home on private transportation as long as the cruise company’s chief medical officer, chief compliance officer and chief executive officer each sign an agreement that says they will be responsible for making sure the process follows CDC guidelines. After the Herald story, the CDC published the required agreement on its website.

Still, cruise companies continue to blame the CDC.

“In regards to what was in the Miami Herald the other day, well, that is one of those things that is not true at all,” the captain on the Oasis of the Seas said in an announcement Friday.

“First of all, I’d like to just address the Miami Herald article that came out yesterday,” the captain on the Symphony of the Seas said. He joked that the only way to comply with the CDC guidelines is for American crew to walk home, citing a requirement that crew not interact with the public on their journey home. “That is … an unrealistic expectation,” the hotel director said in response, according to a recording obtained by the Herald.

The CDC guidelines specifically allow for charter flights.

“There was one article today we all read and we raised that question today in a conference call which says that CDC and cruise lines did not come with an agreement because it’s too expensive,” the captain on the Anthem of the Seas said Friday. “That is absolute false. The money has nothing to do with it. It is absolutely not the money that we are concerned. The money is not the issue. The issues are a legal part.”

Royal Caribbean did not respond to a request for comment.

Royal Caribbean has disembarked one person under this agreement with the CDC: the cruise director on the Liberty of the Seas, who left this week. The cruise director told crew on board that he traveled home from where the ship is docked in Galveston, Texas, to his home in Memphis, Tenn., in a private car, according to crew members on board.

Crew reparation plans shared with Royal Caribbean crew this month as recently as Thursday say, “The CDC banned all flights for crew repatriation until a new plan is approved.”

Dr. Martin Cetron, the CDC’s director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said in a phone interview Friday that the information is false. Charter flights are allowed. Companies have repeatedly told the agency that they can’t afford private transportation for crew, he said.

“Some of the lines have really disappointed us about not cooperating,” he said. “What they’ve said repeatedly is we can’t do that, we can’t afford to do that. Their answers are not aligned with the public health needs.”

Centron’s team is currently reviewing plans that cruise companies submitted to the agency April 22 outlining how they will stop ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks on their ships and safely repatriate all of their crew. On April 23, the CDC sent guidelines to cruise companies describing how they could repatriate people safely in the meantime, including the requirement that executives sign off on arrangements.

Using this process, so far Virgin Voyages has disembarked eight Americans from its Scarlet Lady ship, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings has disembarked five Americans from its Seven Seas Mariner ship and 346 Filipinos from its Norwegian Joy ship, Carnival Corp. has disembarked three Ecuadorians from its Coral Princess ship and 193 Argentines and Peruvians from its Caribbean Princess ship, Disney Cruise Line has disembarked two Americans from its Disney Fantasy and Disney Magic ships, and Bahamas Paradise Cruise Lines has disembarked 27 Hondurans from its Grand Celebration ship, according to the CDC.

A Herald investigation has found that at least 1,110 crew members have been infected with COVID-19 and at least 14 have died, including several in South Florida hospitals.


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