One of the biggest names in the travel industry, Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler, has blasted Carnival Corporation’s Princess Cruises as “villains in the spread of coronavirus – with form”.
Speaking from an apartment in Melbourne where he’s in self-isolation having recently returning from the Yemen island of Socotra, via Cairo, Mr Wheeler said the recovery of the cruise industry “if not doomed, will be absolutely slowed down” by the alarming events of the past month.
“Absolutely, the cruise companies should bear more responsibility for the health of their passengers, but this goes much further than the current crisis,” he said. “How many ‘sick ships’ have we seen cruising around in circles in recent years?”
Three of the 13 Australian deaths so far due to COVID-19 have been passengers who disembarked from a number of cruise ships that were docked in Sydney between March 18 and 20.
During those three days, thousands of passengers disembarked – some claiming they were not given any health checks – and were free to make their way home to self-isolate. Many took trains, buses and interstate flights.
The failure on the part of the world’s two biggest, most powerful cruise operators along with federal and NSW government authorities to properly think through and co-ordinate the responsible disembarkation of these ships is now being showcased globally as one of the worst examples of public health management. An inquiry is expected to be held.
Even the role of the ships’ captains is under scrutiny given they’re responsible for the safe operation of a ship and for all those on board while at sea. This includes the centuries-old practice of electing to fly the yellow flag on entering a port to signifiy that the ship is free of disease.
Commentators are asking how NSW and the cruise operators got it so wrong given a blatant lesson as to what might happen was there: it is well publicised that multiple cruise passengers tested COVID-19 positive only hours after they disembarked from the Dawn Princess in Japan on Feburary 19 following the ship’s enforced two-week quarantine period.
In NSW, a woman in her 70s died on Tuesday March 24 only days after she was rushed directly from Ruby Princess to a nearby Sydney hospital. On Wednesday March 25, Garry Kirstenfeldt, a 68-year-old man from Toowoomba died less than a week after he disembarked his cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas in Sydney.
Kirstenfeldt loved cruising. “We never expected his 17th cruise to be his last,” his family said on Friday.
On Thursday March 26, a Perth man in his 70s died – he had got off Celebrity Solstice (also operated by Royal Caribbean) in Sydney last week.
The first Australian to die of COVID-19, on February 29, was 79-year-old West Australian tourism entrepreneur James Kwan, who was aboard Diamond Princess in Japan.
“Carnival/Princess Lines are villains in the spread of coronavirus, but hey, they’ve got form,” Mr Wheeler said. “Just Google ‘pollution, penalties, fines, cover-ups’ and they pop up all over the place.”
He’s referring to a number of breaches, including Princess being ordered to pay a record-breaking $US40 million ($65.7 million) penalty in the United States after pleading guilty to seven federal charges over illegal ocean pollution in December 2016, followed by a $US20 million fine for similar charges in 2019.
“Let’s face it, cruise ships and their operators are not squeaky clean in all sorts of ways, whether it’s deliberately trying to evade dumping rules to the nasty fuel they burn,” Mr Wheeler said.
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