The US Congress has launched an investigation into Carnival Corporation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the company plans to gradually restart North American services.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure chair, Peter DeFazio and chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transport Sean Patrick Maloney have sent a scathing letter to Carnival requesting records of the company’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
DeFazio and Maloney said they particularly want information about decisions the company made regarding the health and safety of its passengers and crew amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including a copy of the company’s fleetwide Outbreak Prevention and Response Plans in effect starting January 1, 2020.
They also requested all communications between Carnival staff and health authorities regarding COVID-19, as well as all communications between staff on all nine Carnival ships that reported cases mentioning the virus.
In the letter to Carnival’s President and CEO, Arnold Donald, the chairs said they were concerned the cruise line was failing to appropriately acknowledge public health concerns in its public-facing materials.
“While cruises are often viewed as a care-free escape from reality where passengers can dine, dance, relax, and mingle, we would hope that the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic will place a renewed emphasis on public health and passenger safety, but frankly that has not been seen up to this point,” DeFazio and Maloney said.
“In fact, it seems as though Carnival Corporation and its portfolio of nine cruise lines, which represents 109 cruise ships, is still trying to sell this cruise line fantasy and ignoring the public health threat posed by coronavirus to potential future passengers and crew.”
In the letter, the two refer to cruise ships “a fertile breeding ground for infectious diseases” and said the World Health Organization (WHO) identified norovirus and influenza outbreaks as a “major public health problem for the cruise industry” a decade before the COVID-19 outbreak began.
“On March 23, 2020, the CDC reported that the Diamond Princess, with 328 Americans on board, and the Grand Princess, which docked in the United States, had more than 800 total COVID-19 cases, including 10 deaths,” they said, adding that Princess Cruises is a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation.
“The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on those two ships is more than all of the confirmed cases in the states of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, or Hawaii as of April 22, 2020.”
According to Bloomberg, at least nine of Carnival’s ships have been infected with COVID-19 resulting in more than 1,500 confirmed infections and at least 39 deaths.
Carnival Corporation told Travel Weekly in a statement that it will fully cooperate with the investigation.
“Our goal is the same as the committee’s goal: to protect the health, safety and well-being of our guests and crew, along with compliance and environmental protection,” said the corporation.
“We are reviewing the letter and will fully cooperate with the committee.”
Both the NSW government and the NSW Police force have launched investigations into Carnival’s handling of Ruby Princess‘ disembarkation in Sydney Harbour, causing at least 20 deaths and 700 cases of COVID-19
This came as Carnival Cruise Line advised it would extend its pause in operations in Australia through to 31 August, but plans to phase in a resumption in its North American service at the beginning of August.
The line said it would have a total of eight ships sailing from Miami, Port Canaveral and Galveston.
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has had a No Sail Order in place since 14 March, which was renewed on 9 April.
The centre has advised the order will stay in place until COVID-19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency, the CDC director modifies the order based on public health or other considerations or until 100 days have passed since 15 April (24 July).
Featured image: iStock/PeskyMonkey