There’s a whole lot of finger-pointing going on since the world started experiencing the ripple effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“China didn’t share what they knew. The President didn’t act quickly enough. Why didn’t Charmin see what was coming so we’d have enough toilet paper?!”
Yes, there are a lot of coulda-woulda-shouldas anytime we experience a crisis, but it’s hard to imagine how things could have gone so wrong with one of the biggest players in the Coronavirus saga.
Most of us first started worrying about COVID-19 hitting home when we saw the horror stories of quarantined cruise ships full of American tourists.
While America was still feeling immune to the dangers, thousands of cruise-goers were enjoying a party on the high seas, oblivious to what was about to unfold in the days and weeks to come.
No royal treatment from these princesses…
Carnival Cruise Lines, one of the oldest and most popular cruise providers in the world, was about to hit the headlines in a big way – but not in a good way.
On March 4th, passengers aboard the Grand Princess, which had departed from San Francisco, received a letter slipped under their cabin doors. The CDC was investigating a small group of COVID-19 cases in California that seemed to track back to the ship.
The ship was scheduled to return to San Francisco, skipping a stop in Mexico on its return trip out of “an abundance of caution.”
Passengers may have been mildly concerned but, after all, the duty of a ship’s captain is to make the safety of passengers and crew a priority. Surely if there was a real danger, passengers would be notified, right?
Carnival played it cool. There was no panic, despite a noticeable new presence of hand sanitizer and crew members wearing gloves while on duty.
The party went on. The buffet lines were long; the shows and swimming pools packed; the dance classes full of hopeful retired ladies yearning to get their husbands to finally dance with them.
None of the twenty restaurants and lounges stopped seating guests; none of the nearly dozen little boutiques were closed. There were no signs of anything awry.
The next day, however, was a different story. On March 5th, the ship’s captain made an announcement over the PA system – everyone was ordered to shelter in place in their cabins.
Just like the rest of America would do a few weeks later, passengers ran to the stores and dining areas to grab the important stuff – ice cream, magazines, and treats.
And everyone went to the buffets to carb-binge for what was thought to be a brief break from the party.
Passengers even joked that there was no way to social distance on a cruise ship as they made their way through crowded elevators and hallways. Others lamented the fact that the evening shuffleboard game and ukulele concert would be canceled.
This was no big deal, they thought. Just a precaution. There was no reason to think otherwise from the little information they were receiving. If things were dire, they’d be informed.
Or so they thought.
The days went on. Passengers didn’t know what was happening or when they’d be able to get back to the party.
And then, after several days of being trapped, ill-equipped, and ill-informed, things weren’t so much fun anymore. Testing started on passengers and crew, with 21 initially testing positive.
They were the subject of news stories and family conversations all over the country. They were hearing rumors that they would not be able to leave the ship once they got to port.
Give a wide berth…
Yes, there are a lot of things we didn’t know back then, a lot of things the passengers in these floating hotspots didn’t know.
But how much did Carnival actually know?
It turns out, probably a lot more than they’ll admit. But was it naivete, profit loss, reputation, or just plain stupidity that caused them to respond the way they did?
A month earlier on the first day of February, one of Carnival’s sanitation groups emailed the cruise liner’s CEO and Guest Services to notify them of a positive case of Coronavirus in Hong Kong from a recent passenger aboard the Diamond Princess.
They were told to take precautions and disinfect the ship.
Carnival representatives have offered different timelines of their responses to this email. You’ve seen Dateline. Never change your story — that’s how everyone gets caught.
They said no one saw the email for days because no one was monitoring emails. Then they said they had seen the email and were communicating between Carnival execs and health officials in Hong Kong before making any decisions.
After seemingly ignoring a press release from Hong Kong health officials on February 1st mentioning the case, the passenger’s name, and the cruise ship he was on, Carnival said they hadn’t seen the release until the next day.
They didn’t want to make an announcement until they had their facts straight. That didn’t come until February 3rd, more than two days after they knew there were passengers on board that had been exposed.
Finally pressured to announce the circumstances to passengers, the captain calmly let them know they would head for Japan. The patient in question had not been ill while on board. Passengers should wash their hands, remain calm, and see the ship’s doctor if they feel sick.
And, by the way, there would be “no charge” for any necessary medical care. How charitable of them. “The situation is under control, and therefore there are no reasons for concerns,” the captain announced, according to Bloomberg News.
In order to maintain the illusion that all was well, the party would go on – for now.
Activity itineraries were circulated. Passengers went to classes and lessons and game times, and they went to the buffets. One passenger reported large groups congregating as she walked back to her cabin after having her temperature taken.
While some activities were canceled on February 4th, passengers were not ordered to shelter in place in their cabins until February 5th. This was the first day Carnival’s CEO thought he should become involved in the situation.
The rest is history, and there are far more excuses than answers. Carnival’s executives would make darn good politicians.
There had been two other Coronavirus scares on Carnival cruises in February, what they called “false alarms.” (Meaning they probably ignored warnings and just got lucky no one died.)
Countries were starting to issue statements refusing to allow Carnival cruise ships to dock in their ports. They’re the hardest hit of all the major cruise liners, with 1,500 COVID-19 cases and almost 40 deaths.
Experts at the CDC place blame on Carnival Cruise Lines for so many preventable cases. While it was difficult to get everyone back to shore once they needed to, it seems they ignored several chances to do so before things got worse.
They also say Carnival continued to go forward with cruises even after company execs knew it was unsafe to do so, not fully halting operations until March 15th.
Going down with the ship…
This time, it may not be the captain, but the CEO of Carnival, Arnold Donald, going down with the ship.
Carnival has dealt with blows to their reputation before. Under previous leadership in 2012, the Costa Concordia crashed into a rocky shoreline in Italy. Thirty-two people, including a child, were killed. The captain abandoned ship.
In 2013, the Triumph experienced a fire in the engine room that left passengers stranded for days without working toilets. That voyage is lovingly referred to as “the poop cruise.”
After Arnold Donald took over as CEO in 2013, things were looking up for Carnival. Their market value had doubled by 2018. They were ramping up their plans for bigger, better, more-amazing-than-you-can-imagine cruises for the future.
But while Carnival is not the only cruise line having their reputation tarnished, they are probably the worst offenders during this whole crippling pandemic.
Both Princess and Costa lines – subsidiaries of Carnival – are facing lawsuits and criminal investigations about their Coronavirus responses.
When he took over, CEO Arnold Donald had made plans to address the safety concerns of the past. Like the rest of us at the beginning of the year, Donald was set to make 2020 the best ever.
I think next year, we’ll all be a little more careful about making resolutions after the way this year has gone so far.
But John Padgett, another Carnival exec, has said the whole experience for cruise lines is “as bad as it gets. Armageddon.”
Donald and his team at Carnival say it’s very easy to play the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” game after the fact.
But his excuses are falling on many deaf ears, especially those of victims and their families. Still, he defended the company’s decisions by stating, “It wasn’t like there were protocols, and that this was established. Nothing’s perfect, OK?”
No, Arnold Donald, nothing’s perfect, but it sure seems like there was a lot you coulda, woulda, shoulda done with the information you had.
While we may never know who knew what and when, we’re pretty certain that mistakes were made and warnings were ignored in order to protect the bottom line.
Survivors of these doomed cruises say the crew did their best. Many travelers will, indeed, take a cruise in the future. But many, like me, will avoid them like this most recent plague on our planet.
When future cruises were canceled in mid-March, many would-be passengers were given vouchers for a future trip rather than a monetary refund issued by a company that knew it was about to be financially under water.
People are going to do what people are going to do. Some are sympathetic, understanding that Carnival Cruise Lines is as much a victim of the pandemic as everyone else affected.
Others (me, me, me!!!) are too cynical to ignore the convenient excuses issued by this mega-company. “We missed the email. We didn’t see a press release. The dog ate our satellite phone.”
You be the judge, but if I wasn’t considering going on a cruise before, I sure as heck ain’t gonna start now.
Whether Carnival execs were just naïve and stupid, or downright negligent, neither makes me feel like ever joining their party.