Covid-19 cases reported aboard first cruise to resume sailing in the Caribbean

SeaDream Yacht Club-SeaDream 1 is the first cruise vessel to resume sailing in the Caribbean since the start of the pandemic.

(CNN) -- A Covid-19 outbreak is the last thing the cruise industry needs as it eases back into the Caribbean.

Yet five people aboard the SeaDream 1 cruise ship have tested positive for Covid-19, the ship's captain said in an announcement, according to passenger Ben Hewitt.

SeaDream Yacht Club said in a news release that "guests" have tested positive for the virus, but did not specify the number who had done so. The news release said that all guests and nonessential crew are quarantining in their rooms.

CNN has asked SeaDream to confirm the exact number.

The ship, which was in the Grenadines at the time of the first preliminary positive test on Wednesday, docked in Barbados that evening.

SeaDream 1 is the first cruise vessel to resume sailing in the Caribbean since the start of the pandemic.

Crew members told passenger Gene Sloan on Thursday that if all other passengers tested negative, they might be able to leave their cabins soon and then disembark from the ship in the coming days.

There are 53 passengers and 66 crew members on board, Sloan said.

"The ship's medical staff has tested all crew members and all tests have come back negative. SeaDream is currently retesting all guests," SeaDream's statement says.

Company officials are awaiting approval from the Barbados government to disembark guests.

"SeaDream is following all protocols recommended by the health authorities," the release says.

Intercom announcement of positive test result

Sloan, a senior reporter for cruise and travel at The Points Guy, reported that the Covid scare started when the captain informed passengers of the preliminary positive test over the ship's intercom system shortly before lunchtime on Wednesday.

Passengers were instructed to return to their cabins and remain isolated there, he said.

"It's not a great development for the cruise industry," Sloan told CNN Travel via email on Wednesday from his cabin on board. "I think the hope had been that the rigorous testing that SeaDream was doing would keep Covid off its ship."

Both Sloan and Ben Hewitt, host of Cruise with Ben & David on YouTube, were among a handful of journalists and content creators on board to document the first Caribbean cruise voyage since the pandemic shut operations down in March.

Extensive, multilayer testing for Covid-19 has been an integral part of SeaDream's efforts to create a Covid-19 negative bubble aboard its ships.

Passengers were tested both in advance of traveling to the ship and also before boarding the ship, Sloan said.

"And SeaDream also was testing passengers four days into the trip," he said. "We were scheduled to be tested again today. That's a more rigorous testing plan than most lines had been discussing for the restarts."

That rigor is due in part to the strict testing required by Barbados, where the ship will be based for the season, Sloan noted.

"I think what this shows is it's going to happen. And until there's a vaccine or herd immunity, when cruising starts up you're going to see things like this happen. The question is how often and how big?"

Voyages from Barbados

SeaDream's winter voyages from Barbados started on November 7 with the sailing that has now been cut short.

These new Caribbean sailings follow a successful summer season for SeaDream in Norway, which the company said "resulted in zero positive cases during the entire Norwegian summer season."

"After completing a successful summer season in Norway, we implemented even stricter health and safety protocols for our Barbados winter season. All guests were tested twice prior to embarkation and we are in the process of retesting guests," said SeaDream's Andreas Brynestad in the statement released on Thursday.

"We are working closely with local health and government authorities to resolve this situation in the best possible way."

Hewitt expressed his disappointment and frustration with the virus in an interview Thursday from his stateroom.

"It's just so disappointing that this has happened because everybody has their hopes up high, and we can't see anything more that they could've done," said Hewitt.

"It's just such a horrible virus, it just gets everywhere even with the constant testing."

Fewer than 250 guests

SeaDream's ships, which the company refers to as "superyachts," have 56 staterooms, with a capacity for 112 guests and 95 crew.

Carrying fewer than 250 guests outside of US waters allows SeaDream to operate outside of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's orders around cruising.

The CDC recently issued a "Framework for Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships."

The order, which applies to cruise ships in US territorial waters that have capacity to carry at least 250 passengers, is considered a tentative step toward the resumption of cruising.

Trade group Cruise Lines International Association said it will work with the CDC to resume US sailings as soon as possible, but that its members would continue a voluntary suspension of operations through the end of 2020.

The-CNN-Wire
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