Coral Princess docks in Fort Lauderdale

Coral and Island Princess Balconies

Another cruise ship with coronavirus victims onboard, including two fatalities, docked in Florida on Saturday.

Princess Cruises spokeswoman Negin Kamali said in an email that the Coral Princess was docking in Miami. The ship with 1,020 passengers and 878 crew members had been in limbo for days awaiting permission to dock.

As of Thursday, Kamali said seven passengers and five crew members had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Anyone in need of hospitalization would disembark first, the cruise line said, although it wasn’t immediately clear when that would happen. Those fit to fly were to begin leaving on Sunday, while others with symptoms of respiratory illness would remain on board until cleared by ship doctors.

A day earlier, the cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam were permitted to dock at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, with 14 critically ill people taken immediately to hospitals. The remaining passengers were slowly being allowed to board flights for home.

Schuttevaer – 100ste aankomst van ms Rotterdam

The Coral Princess had been on a South American cruise that was due to end March 19 in Buenos Aires. Since then, the ship has encountered obstacles to docking because of various port closures and cancellation of airline flights, the cruise line said.

Passengers have self-isolated in their staterooms and meals have been delivered by room service. Crew members also have remained in their quarters when they are not working.

The Coast Guard said in a news release Saturday it has been involved with processing about 120 vessels carrying some 250,000 passengers over the past three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Coast Guard statement said as of Saturday there are 114 cruise ships carrying 93,000 crew members either in or near U.S. ports and waters. That includes 73 cruise ships with 52,000 crew members moored or anchored in U.S. ports and anchorages.

The cruise line industry announced a voluntary suspension of most ship operations from U.S. ports on March 13. The next day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a “no sail” order to all cruise ships that had not suspended operations.

“We commend the decision by the cruise industry to cease operations. However, pausing a global tourist industry does not happen instantaneously or easily,” said Vice Admiral Dan Abel, Coast Guard deputy commandant for operations. “The federal, state, local and industry cooperation to achieve this feat truly represents the whole-of-nation approach directed by the president and is essential to fighting the spread of this virus and working to minimize the loss of life.”

Princess Cruises is a brand of Miami-based Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company.

DOT orders airlines to pay out refunds

DOT orders airlines to pay out refunds
Photo Credit: Oliver Le Moal/Shutterstock

The Transportation Department on Friday issued an enforcement notice, telling airlines that they remain obligated to pay out refunds for flights that they have cancelled.

The order was prompted by an increase in complaints from ticketed passengers who have been denied refunds, the DOT said. Airlines instead are often giving travel vouchers.

“The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control,” the DOT said in the order. “The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.”

The unprecedented schedule cuts airlines have made in response to the Covid-19 crisis has left the airline industry with a $35 billion refund liability worldwide, according to a recent IATA estimate.

With airlines already struggling due to enormous losses in revenue, IATA has been lobbying governments to suspend refund requirements. Thus far Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Colombia have issued favourable rulings for airlines.

Airlines have also acted individually to make refunds more challenging to obtain. Some have stopped processing them entirely while many others are making it difficult for customers to find information on applying for refunds. In the U.S., United recently altered its refund process so that international ticket holders will have to wait a year to get repaid for a flight cancelled by the airline.

In addition, 33 airlines (as of April 3) have unilaterally suspended refunds through the GDSs or ARC’s Interactive Agent Reporting system, forcing travel advisors to deal directly with the carrier.

Meanwhile, the sheer volume of refund transactions facing airlines that are still processing them in the GDS has compelled ARC to delay its weekly remittance schedule. ARC will now turn over refunds to agencies 10 days after the Sunday end of each business week, rather than five. That decision, said ARC’s managing director of airline services Chuck Fischer, was prompted by the fact that with current refund volumes, many airlines simply can’t go through their procedures fast enough to meet the five-day schedule.

Fischer said ARC doesn’t like that some airlines have cut off GDS refund processing, “but we can’t stop them from doing that.”

IATA, which oversees agent channel billing and settlement for most of the world other than the U.S., has no such reluctance. In an open letter to travel agents Thursday, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said that the best solution right now for airlines and agents alike is for governments to suspend refund requirements.

“This would remove the pressure that is currently on agents to issue cash refunds at a time when airlines are making decisions based on their own need to preserve cash,” he wrote.

The DOT’s enforcement notice pushes back against such airline efforts. The department stated that it considers any contract of carriage provision by an airline that denies refunds for cancellations or significant schedule changes to be a regulatory violation. (The DOT does not specifically define “significant schedule change.” A DOT spokesperson said it is determined on a case-by-case basis.) The notice applies to both U.S. and foreign carriers that operate in the U.S.

The department said that for now, it will hold off on enforcement action against airlines that have provided travel vouchers in lieu of refunds to travellers with cancelled flights, but only if they meet three conditions:

• Carriers must contact passengers to tell them they have an option for a refund.

• They must update contacts of carriage to make refund rights clear.

• They must brief all relevant personnel on the circumstances in which refunds should be made.

Australia launches criminal investigation into Ruby Princess

The Ruby Princess cruise ship sails off the coast of Sydney, Australia, 04 April 2020
The Ruby Princess remains off the coast of Sydney with 200 crew members showing symptoms of the virus

A criminal investigation has been launched in Australia into how cruise ship passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney despite some exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

More than 600 people on board the Ruby Princess later tested positive for coronavirus and 10 have since died.

The ship remains off the coast with nearly 200 sick crew members on board.

Police in New South Wales said they would look into whether national biosecurity laws had been broken.

Australia has so far reported 5,548 coronavirus cases and 30 deaths.

Those sickened on cruise ships account for nearly a tenth of all cases in Australia.

The country has imposed strict social distancing measures and clubs, cafes, parks and gyms have been closed in a bid to contain the outbreak

At a news conference, New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said there were “many unanswered questions” about the incident.

He said that, by law, vessels were only allowed to dock and disembark passengers if the captain could assure the local authorities that their ship was free from contagious disease.

Mr Fuller said there were “discrepancies” involving the information provided by the ship’s owners, Carnival Australia, and the requirements of the law.

“The only way I can get to the bottom of whether our national biosecurity laws and our state laws were broken is through a criminal investigation,” he told reporters.

Mr Fuller said that the day before passengers disembarked in Sydney a worker made an emergency call about two people who needed medical assistance. He said police were assured by the operating company that the coronavirus was not an issue on the ship.

“From that perspective, there are many unanswered questions,” he added.

New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller. 27 March 2020

The New South Wales government has faced mounting criticism for allowing people off the ship but has insisted that the decision was based on expert advice.

Mr Fuller added that Carnival Australia had said it would fully co-operate with the inquiry. The company has not yet commented publicly on the criminal investigation.

The Ruby Princess with about 2,700 people on board arrived in Sydney last month after an 11-day cruise.

According to NSW Health, about a dozen passengers had reported feeling unwell and had swabs taken for Covid-19. One was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

But other passengers on board weren’t told of this. Instead, they streamed off the boat at Circular Quay – some of them coughing and spluttering, according to witnesses. The busy area leads directly into the city centre, with transit links to the airport and outer suburbs.

An empty Ruby Princess cruise ship heading past Sydney Opera House and out of Sydney Harbour on 19 March.

Elisa McCafferty, an Australian woman who flew home to London with her husband immediately after disembarking, told the BBC: “Nothing was said at any time about anyone being sick onboard. It was a distinct lack of information coming through from Princess [Princess Cruises which is owned by Carnival] the entire time.”

A day after the ship docked, officials revealed cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed in three people who had been on board, prompting a scramble to track down everyone who had been on the ship.

Ms McCafferty said she only learned of the danger when she checked her phone at Heathrow Airport.

“I was just absolutely petrified. We had just been on two full flights – what if we had infected someone?”