SeaDream is canceling cruises for the rest of the year after seven passengers and two crew members tested positive on one of its ships this month, the company announced Tuesday.
The outbreak happened on the SeaDream 1 cruise ship during a Nov. 7 sailing from Barbados — the first cruise in the Caribbean since the COVID-19 pandemic began. What was supposed to be a seven-day voyage launching cruising’s comeback in the region was cut short after passengers began to test positive for COVID-19 midway through the cruise. The ship promptly returned to Barbados, where patients were offloaded to local hospitals.
Tuesday, the company announced it would cancel the rest of its 2020 cruises because of the COVID-19 cases. “The company will now spend time to evaluate and see if it is possible to operate and have a high degree of certainty of not getting COVID,” its statement said.
Miami-based SeaDream has two identical 112-passenger ships. Only 53 passengers were aboard the Barbados cruise. The boutique ultra-luxury cruise liner, according to Barbados Today, arrived in the Caribbean island on Nov. 4 and had a series of 22 round-trip voyages planned. The itinerary included visits to the Southern Caribbean ports of Bequia and Canouan Island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St George’s, Grenada.
The company said, “Multiple negative PCR tests were required before the guests boarded, but this was not sufficient to prevent COVID-19 onboard.” Passengers underwent a laboratory PCR test up to three days before traveling to Barbados, per the country’s COVID-19 rules. Just prior to boarding, passengers were tested again on the pier using the Abbott ID Now machine, according to cruise writer Gene Sloan, and results were ready in 15 minutes. He was one of several cruise journalists invited by the company to document the trip.
SeaDream did not respond to questions about what kind of tests it conducted at the pier. Abbott did not respond to requests for comment.
During the first two days of the cruise, passengers and crew were not required to wear masks, according to Sloan and other writers on board.
SeaDream’s announcement comes during a U.S. cruise hiatus that will last through 2020.
After halting cruises in March, the CDC lifted its cruise ban this month and put in place phased requirements companies must meet before resuming passenger sailings.
The agency will require weekly PCR testing of crew members, pre-boarding PCR testing for passengers and masks for all crew.
Dr. Kenneth George, chief medical officer of Barbados, said SeaDream 1 contacted the country during the cruise about passengers who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Barbados health officials boarded the ship and tested passengers, confirming that nine people on the ship had COVID-19.
“The nine individuals went to Harrison’s Point, one of the individuals was (medically evacuated) out,” he said. “The remaining passengers, who all tested negative, went out on commercial airlines and have left Barbados. We’re looking to retest the crew at the moment.”
George said Barbados allowed the ship to dock in the country “after careful consideration.”
“We indicated we would allow them to port here but we were going to repeat the test based on our standards,” he said. “The challenge with the rapid PCR test is if the test is positive, you’re very likely to be positive. If the test is negative, you can still be harboring the virus and that’s the challenge we have with the rapid PCR test.”
A few passengers currently remain at the country’s isolation facilities, he said. The average length of time to stay there is 10 days, and none of the passengers there is showing symptoms.
Barbados requires arrivals to show proof of a laboratory real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction PCR test. Even with that requirement, George said they have been finding “more and more people testing positive with a second test.” Individuals from high-risk areas are retested four to five days after their first test. During that time, individuals are required to be in a designated quarantine facility.
The country does not use or endorse the use of rapid tests of any kind, he said.
“We have put a lot of controls in our system to make sure that passengers are safe,” he said. “We don’t allow persons to quarantine at home ... .We will continue to use our methodology, which has worked so far for us.
“We support cruises returning to Barbados,” he said. “But the cruise lines need to understand the requirements of Barbados and comply. We are not going to accept rapid tests on board. We are not going to accept antigen tests at this point.”
While some Caribbean countries have promoted the idea of a travel bubble between them, George raised concerns about changing positivity rates throughout the region.
“The other issue is we need to be involved in the decisions because the fortunes within the Caribbean have been changing so (residents of those) countries are not necessarily low-risk individuals. The issue of the bubble is the bubble changes all the time.”