Hundreds of passengers fell ill, and ships were stranded at sea as multiple countries began refusing them in ports. Much of the cruise industry was put on ice, with the majority of operators shutting down until at least the end of 2020.
Not so with SeaDream Yacht Club, which said in September that it planned to become the first luxury cruise operator to resume sailing in the Caribbean, with 22 voyages planned from Nov. 7 onwards.
Now, according to CNBC and various outlets, the captain of vessel SeaDream 1, Torbjorn Lund, has reported five positive COVID-19 tests on-board the ship. Lund announced the diagnoses in an announcement to passengers and crew, confirmed Sue Bryant, a cruise editor for the U.K.’s Sunday Times currently on the ship. A cruise writer for The Points Guy — an American travel website — is also on SeaDream 1, and he too confirmed the announcement.
SeaDream 1 is carrying 53 passengers and 66 crew members, with the majority of passengers from the United States. Bryant told The Associated Press that the five infected passengers appear to be in one group travelling together.
She also told the news service that one passenger became sick on Wednesday and forced the ship to turn back to Barbados, where it had departed from on Saturday. The incident marked the first time SeaDream had resumed its West Indies voyages since the pandemic began, with the ship originally scheduled to return to Barbados on Saturday, according to an online itinerary. The ship had made several stops in St. Vincent and the Grenadines before turning back.
The ship is currently at the Port of Bridgetown in Barbados. For now, passengers and crew are to stay on-board.
Bryant said passengers were required to have a negative test to enter Barbados and underwent another test on the dock administered by the ship’s doctor.
“We all felt very safe,” she said, adding that the ship had been implementing strict hygiene protocols. “Yet somehow, COVID appears to have got on board.”
The Oslo, Norway-based luxury cruise liner also said it is currently re-testing all guests, noting they’re all under quarantine along with non-essential crew members.
“All guests were tested twice prior to embarkation. We are working closely with local health and government authorities to resolve this situation in the best possible way,” SeaDream said. “Our main priority is the health and safety of our crew, guests, and the communities we visit.”
The Points Guy writer, Gene Sloan, told Inside Edition that a mask policy wasn’t enforced until two days into the trip.
Government officials in Barbados did not return messages for comment.
Most U.S. cruise operators have suspended their operations until the end of 2020, The Cruise Lines International Association said on Nov. 3.
SeaDream Yacht Club operates two luxury vessels, each with a capacity of up to 112 passengers — the reason why SeaDream 1 was allowed to sail in American waters, as current CDC restrictions apply only to larger cruise ships that carry at least 250 passengers.
SeaDream was among the first cruise lines to resume service in Europe. In August, the company reported that an asymptomatic passenger had tested positive for the coronavirus after disembarking from SeaDream 1 in Denmark. All other passengers and crew tested negative, the company said.
Canada banned cruise ships with overnight accommodation for at least 500 passengers in mid-March.
In May, it extended the ban until the end of October and increased it to include all ships with 100 or more overnight passenger spaces. Transport Minister Marc Garneau now says big cruise ships will be banned from Canadian waters at least until the end of February.
The same extension is being applied to the ban on smaller vessels carrying 12 or more passengers in Arctic coastal waters.
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press