Congress has opened a probe into Carnival Corporation, the operator of the Princess Cruises line of cruise ships, over its handling of COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a report from Bloomberg. Officials are now requesting Carnival turn over documents and communications about its coronavirus response and its plans for future improvement.
The investigation, led by the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, is specifically looking into how much Carnival executives were aware of the severity of the coronavirus outbreaks on its cruise ships and the lack of action it took during active cruises after being informed of the risks. More than 1,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases can be traced back to the company’s cruise ships, and dozens of Carnival customers and crew members have since died from the virus.
The probe cites a damning Bloomberg feature story from writers Austin Carr and Chris Palmeri from last month that delves intricately into how Florida-based Carnival handled news of the COVID-19 outbreaks aboard nine of its ships. The story itself, which everyone should go read, is astonishing, featuring illuminating interviews with crew members and passengers and a lengthy sit-down with Carnival CEO Arnold Donald. It paints the picture of a company that, even in early March as the threat of the novel coronavirus become abundantly clear worldwide, did not take action fast enough to order its passengers into self-isolation and dock its cruise ships. Instead, many ships decided to let customers remain in extremely close contact with one another in swimming pools and in dining areas featuring buffets.
“We would hope that the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic will place a renewed emphasis on public health and passenger safety, but frankly that has not been seen up to this point,” wrote House member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in the letter sent to Carnival announcing the investigation. “It seems as though Carnival Corporation and its portfolio of nine cruise lines, which represents 109 cruise ships, is still trying to sell this cruise line fantasy and ignoring the public health threat.”
Bloomberg reports that many of the customers who received refunds from Carnival were given the option to receive the credit for a future cruise, and Carnival in some cases sweetened the deal by giving out free vouchers as well. While the company suspended its cruises starting in March, some passengers and crew remain stuck on ships around the world. “Our goal is the same as the committee’s goal,” Carnival said in a statement to Bloomberg, “to protect the health, safety and well-being of our guests and crew, along with compliance and environmental protection.”
In addition to the House probe, Australian police last month launched a criminal investigation into how Carnival handled the docking of one of its Princess ships, the Ruby Princess, in Sydney on March 19th. The investigation is looking into whether Carnival officials misled Australian authorities about the COVID-19 outbreak aboard the ship, as Carnival customers at the time made up nearly one-third of all Australian deaths from the virus.