Covid-hit cruise line denies hiding outbreak but admits 'mistakes were made'

Benjamin Parker
·3-min read
Hurtigruten's Roald Amundsen is currently docked in Tromsø
Hurtigruten's Roald Amundsen is currently docked in Tromsø

The boss of the Norwegian cruise line that has seen at least 40 cases of Covid-19 has blamed “several deviations from procedures” for the outbreak.

But Hurtigurten has denied trying to cover-up the surfacing of the virus as health authorities and the police investigate the circumstances.

Over the weekend it emerged that four crew members on MS Roald Amundsen were suffering from coronavirus and had been hospitalised. All remaining crew members – more than 150 – were tested, with 32 further cases discovered. Of the 378 passengers who sailed and then disembarked in the Norwegian city of Tromsø, at least five have tested positive.

When it took to the water in June, Hurtigruten was the first cruise line to resume ocean-going voyages since the pandemic forced an industry-wide shutdown in March. However, now all sailings on MS Roald Amundsen, MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Spitsbergen have been cancelled until further notice – including the round-Britain voyages planned for September.

Hurtigruten has been contacting passengers who have been on two recent Arctic voyages that set sail on July 17 and July 24. Norwegian public health rules mean that those who sailed on the two trips will need to self-isolate.

Daniel Skjeldam, the chief executive of Hurtigruten, said: “The preliminary examination of what happened on MS Roald Amundsen has uncovered several deviations from our procedures. That’s not good enough. It has caused a demanding and serious situation. I apologise to our guests, colleagues and everyone who cares for Hurtigruten.”

Health authorities and the police in Norway are looking into how the restart of cruising unravelled. The country has so far recorded 9,362 incidents of coronavirus resulting in 256 deaths.

Local media are reporting that Thomas Rye-Holmboe of Troms Police District said they had “found grounds to open a case”. The operator said it will assist in any investigation, and that it has started its own inquiry using an external auditing firm.

The quarantining of foreign crews is one health measure where Hurtigruten failed, said Rune Thomas Ege, Hurtigruten’s vice-president of global communications, as well as the slow relaying of information regarding the outbreak – which the line admits should have been available “at an earlier stage”.

“We have failed. Information regarding recommendations and agreements with the National Health Authorities has not been forwarded. This happened due to a failure in our internal information routines. We strongly regret that,” said Mr Ege.

He added: “It’s important to underline that we never intentionally tried to hide or hold back information. Lack of clear and accurate information internally has resulted in weak communication over the last couple of days."

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Sklejam addressed this, stating that poor communication had led Hurtigruten to “making wrong decisions”.

“Had our own procedures been followed, we probably would not have been infected on board, even though there are no guarantees,” he added. 

Following the Hurtigruten outbreak, four other lines have seen cases on board. Paul Gauguin Cruises had to return to port in the South Pacific over the weekend, while yesterday SeaDream Yacht Club in Norway and UnCruise, sailing off the coast of Alaska, had to turn back.

Costa Cruises has also reported three cases of Covid-19 among crew members. The line is not currently sailing customers, but is due to restart later this month.

No British passengers are on board any of the lines, and the Foreign Office is advising against all travel by cruise ship.

River cruises are exempt from the advice, meaning Britains could head to Europe and join a ship. There have been no reported cases of coronavirus on river voyages.