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Questions Of Cruise Line Liability In COVID-19 Pandemic

Cruise Line Liability In COVID-19 Pandemic
Nothing highlights the ongoing battle between the public good vs the drive for corporate profits better than the cruise industry’s decision to continue to sail customers as the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu began to take hold in nations around globe.

By choosing to ignore what was taking place in nearly every nation around the world, cruise line operators made the decision to risk the lives of their passengers and crew to bring in a few more dollars before travel was forced to stop.

Even in normal times, the ocean is one of the most dangerous environments to operate in and the safety of passengers should be the number one priority, this includes taking all reasonable measures to provide a safe environment for passengers onboard often crowded cruise ships. With hundreds, to in some cases thousands, of people on board all in very close proximity to each other, a cruise ship is the perfect environment for a contagious disease like COVID-19 to spread rapidly.

As governments became aware of the outbreaks on cruise ships, many where prevented from docking, and passengers were not permitted to disembark for in some cases months, being confined to small cabins deep in the interior of these large vessels as the coronavirus spread through the onboard population.

As a result of the cruise industry’s failure to act swiftly, thousands of passengers may have been unknowingly exposed to coronavirus covid-19. At the time of this writing there have been 1,888 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 33 deaths as a direct result of exposure on cruise ships that sailed well after the outbreak began in China.

Cruise Ships Sail Despite Known Danger

Diamond Princess3,711Japan71212Feb 4th
World Dream3,691China120Feb 5th
Westerdam1,528Cambodia10Feb 13th
River Anuket171Egypt45N/AMarch 7th
Grand Princess3,533USA1033March 9th
Braemar1,063Cuba50March, 17
Voyager Of The Seasn/aAustralia390March 18th
Ovation Of The Seas3,500790March 18th
Ruby Princess3,800Australia66212March 19th
Celebrity Solstice3,269Australia111March 20th
Artania1,300Australia652March 25th
Costa Magica3,269USA20n/a
Costa Favoiosa1,009USA130n/a
Zaandam1,829USA112April 2nd

Despite a ship-wide quarantine the virus rapidly spread to passengers and crew, and for a time, the Diamond Princess contained half of all recorded COVID-19 cases outside of China. Yet even so, cruise lines continued to sail as late as March.

Remarkably, a full week after the quarantine began on the Diamond Princess, the Grand Princess set sail leaving port in California on the 11th of February. Shortly after departing, cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in passengers onboard the Grand Princess. As infection began to spread on the Grand Princess a quarantine was imposed on that ship and they returned to port on March 7th. While under quarantine, the Grand Princess sat in port for weeks until passengers were finally allowed off the ship and taken from California to Dobbins Air Force Base located in Georgia for further quarantine and treatment. By the 21st of March 78 people from the Grand Princess had contracted COVID-19, and that number has grown to 103 sickened and 3 deaths.

Duplicity from Cruise Line Operators

Reluctant to lose business as the highly profitable spring break season began, Carnival released a statement to ease travel fears in the public “closely monitoring the evolving situation with respect to Coronavirus,”adding, “the safety of guests and employees, compliance and protecting the environment are top priorities for the company.”

However just weeks after announcing to the public “safety is a top propriety”, in a report to investors Carnival states the following: “There are approximately 6,000 passengers onboard ships still at sea that are expected to disembark their passengers by the end of April. Some of our crew is unable to return home, and we will be providing them with food and housing.”

Of the Carnival ships still at sea were the Holland America’s Rotterdam and Zaandam. The Zaandam had the ill omen of putting to sea March 7th, the same day that World Health Organization announced COVID-19 cases topped 100,000 world wide. It is hard to understand how a company that told the world publicly back on February 12th that, “the safety of guests and employees, compliance and protecting the environment are top priorities for the company”, would set sail nearly a month later after exponential spread of COVID-19 was accelerating unabated.

Predictably, soon after setting sail passengers began to test positive for Coronavirus on the Zaandam. As it became known that COVID-19 was spreading on the Zaandam, seaports refused to allow the cruise ship to dock, leaving 1,829 passengers and crew stranded at sea with Coronavirus as an unwelcome passenger. To relieve the beleaguered Zaandam, Holland America, sent another cruise ship, the Rotterdam to take passengers from the infected ship and both ships were unable to dock for weeks, before finally being allowed to come into port in Fort Lauderdale Florida on April 3rd.

Questions of Cruise Ship Company Liability For Coronavirus Infections

While Coronavirus is a natural disaster that no one could have accurately predicted, the way companies and governments have responded when the danger was apparent, can be seen as if not outright negligent, extremely unwise.

Given the timeline of events it’s clear that the cruise industry’s reluctance to cancel trips directly resulted in many people being exposed to COVID-19, and contributed to spread of this deadly virus. As such, is is no surprise that several law suites have already been filed, some from the passengers who where stuck for weeks onboard the Grand Princess.

If you have been affected by COVID-19 while being in quarantine on a cruise ship contact Goldman Babboni Fernandez & Walsh for a free case review.


During his time as a public attorney for the State of Florida, Bernard Walsh developed a passion for defending the legal rights of Florida's citizens. Having seen many people being taken advantage of after being injured and the financial harm that can cause for families he committed himself fully to helping injured clients get justice, by fighting to make greedy insurance companies pay what they owe.

Questions Of Cruise Line Liability In COVID-19 Pandemic

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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