Frequently Asked Questions about Coronavirus and Cruise Ships

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered all cruise travel suspended in March 2020.  Unfortunately, that No Sail Order was already too late.  Numerous cruise ships suffered outbreaks of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.  The result has been disastrous for passengers and crew.  At Maritime Injury Guide, our coronavirus cruise ship lawyer has received numerous questions about coronavirus and cruise ships. Even though many cruise lines are now sailing again, many people still question how safe cruise travel is.

In this article, we hope to answer some of those questions.  As always, if you have questions about a specific maritime injury you can call us at 866-871-8422 to request a free injury consultation.

FAQs About Coronavirus and Cruise Ships

Who is at risk for coronavirus?

Generally, everyone is at risk for developing coronavirus.  It is a highly contagious virus that can be spread via respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, etc.).  There are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk for developing coronavirus, however.  This includes:

  • Adults over age 65
  • People with chronic medical conditions like lung disease, heart disease or diabetes
  • People who have weak immune systems
  • Women who are pregnant

Why are cruise ships so susceptible to coronavirus outbreaks?

Cruise ships have very confined environments.  Many of these environments are spaces that passengers and crew member share and have regularly access to.  There are also a number of large public areas on ships where passengers and crew could easily transmit germs.  Adding to confined spaces, most ship ventilation systems are shared across the ship.  All of these factors combined make the spread of a contagious virus very easy.

Is it safe to travel on a cruise ship?

Right now, the CDC says to avoid nonessential travel, but especially nonessential travel on cruise ships.

Are cruise lines accepting reservations?

Cruise lines may accept reservations for future dates, but currently are not currently sailing.  On March 14, 2020, the CDC issued the first ever industry-wide No Sail Order.  This order suspends all cruise ship operations in U.S. waters.  In addition to suspending travel, cruise lines must develop comprehensive plans for prevention, detection and response to COVID-19.  These plans must address passengers and crew members.

What Ships Does the No Sail Order Cover?

The No Sail Order covers all cruise ships.  This includes any commercial passenger ship with the capacity to carry at least 250 people, and when there are overnight trips.  It applies to all ships seeking to operate, or currently operating, in U.S. waters or those subject to U.S. jurisdiction.  The No Sail Order does not apply to cargo ships.

What does the No Sail Order mean for trips already scheduled and paid for?

According to the CDC, the U.S. is under a Level 3 travel health notice, which means that all cruise travel should be avoided.  This is due to the potential for person-to-person spread of the virus.  If you have already scheduled a trip and have paid for it, you should contact your cruise line or travel agency to find out what you can do to get a refund or reschedule your trip.

Why are some cruise ship crew members still on board ships?

When shelter in place orders and the No Sail Order took effect, many cruise ships allowed passengers to disembark.  Unfortunately, many cruise line employees and contractors have been unable to disembark.  Crew members must shelter in place, observe social distancing guidelines and take all necessary precautions to prevent getting or spreading coronavirus.

Unfortunately, there are around 100,000 crew members still on cruise ships.  These crew members must quarantine or self-isolate.  There is not a lot of contact with the outside world.  Alarmingly, some crew members are not being paid.  Many crew members are unable to disembark due to ports and air travel being unavailable.

Are cruise ship crew members allowed to leave?

Cruise lines should be working with the CDC to monitor crew and determine when and how it is safe to allow crew members to disembark.  Sick crew members should be transferred to a hospital if necessary.  Crew members should be allowed to disembark so long as the cruise line signs an attestation that the cruise line is compliant with all disembarkation guidelines.  These guidelines include:

  • Ensuring safe noncommercial transportation
  • Providing face coverings to crew members who do not have one
  • Providing instructions for mandatory 14-day stay at home orders once they have disembarked

What are cruise ships doing to address a passenger or crew member illness?

Cruise lines have a duty to take reasonable precautions to protect passengers from infectious disease.  That includes taking measures to quickly identify the source of an outbreak, quarantine sick passengers or crew members, and enhance their infection control procedures.  During an outbreak, sick passengers and crew members should be given adequate medical care while on board, or should be transferred off the ship if necessary.  Failure to meet these guidelines could result in serious harm to passengers or crew members.

Many cruise ship passengers and crew members report suffering trauma during their quarantine experience.  Thousands of people have had to quarantine themselves inside their cabins for weeks.  Many ships are unable to dock, and passengers or crew are not able to disembark.  Sick passengers or crew members are receiving treatment on board the ship with limited supplies and medical resources.  Some ships received supplies from the U.S. Coast Guard.   Passengers and crew members report:

  • Illness due to contracting the virus
  • Fear of contracting the virus
  • Anxiety from being in quarantine on a ship for an indefinite amount of time
  • Lack of medical care on board the ship
  • Unable to return to work resulting in a loss of income
  • Unable to return to family

Are cruise ships responsible for spreading coronavirus?

While it is true that cruise ships have experienced significant outbreaks of coronavirus, they are not the source of the virus.  Unfortunately, however, many cruise lines and ship operators have not taken reasonable precautions to protect their passengers and crew from COVID-19.  If the ship operator or crew members did not follow the CDC’s guidelines for COVID-19, then they may have contributed to the spread of the virus.

I was diagnosed with coronavirus while onboard a cruise ship, what should I do?

If you were diagnosed with coronavirus while on a cruise, speak with a maritime injury lawyer as soon as possible.  If the cruise line, operator or crew were negligent in their handling of the virus, or did not follow CDC guidelines, you may qualify for compensation.

Can I file a coronavirus cruise ship lawsuit?

The answer to this question depends on the facts of your situation.  There are several lawsuits already pending against cruise lines alleging various types of negligence.  Certainly, the best way to determine if you are eligible to file a lawsuit or participate in one is to contact a maritime injury lawyer to discuss your situation.