The first cruise ship to resume sailing in the Caribbean is having a COVID scare
The first cruise vessel to resume sailing in the Caribbean is in the midst of a COVID scare.
A passenger on SeaDream Yacht Club's SeaDream 1 has tested positive for COVID-19 on a preliminary basis, the captain of the vessel, Torbjorn Lund, announced in a shipwide intercom address shortly after noon on Wednesday.
Lund asked all passengers to return to their cabins, where they would be isolated. Nonessential crew also would isolate immediately, he said.
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There are 53 passengers and 66 crew on board the small, yacht-like vessel, which was anchored off Union Island in the Grenadines at the time the announcement was made.
The list of passengers on board SeaDream 1, which just resumed Caribbean sailings on Saturday out of Barbados, includes me. I've been on board since Saturday covering this week's voyage -- a watershed moment for the cruise industry.
Related: This is what it was like boarding the first Caribbean cruise since March
The sailing was the first in the Caribbean by any cruise vessel since the coronavirus crisis was declared a pandemic in March. The Caribbean is the world’s biggest cruise destination, accounting for at least a third of all cruises taken in a normal year, and the cruise industry has been eyeing a restart in the region for many months.
As I wrote about on Sunday, SeaDream had required passengers to run a gauntlet of COVID-19 testing before boarding SeaDream 1. The idea was to create a COVID-free “bubble” on the ship where the odds that even a single passenger was carrying the new coronavirus on board was extremely low.
Every SeaDream 1 passenger had to test negative for COVID-19 several days in advance of boarding and again on the day of boarding. A third test for all passengers was scheduled to take place today.
Driven in part by the COVID-testing requirements of Barbados, where the vessel is scheduled to spend the winter, this is a far more rigorous testing regime than the world’s biggest cruise lines have mapped out in their plans for a cruising comeback.
SeaDream also is requiring social distancing on board SeaDream 1 and, since Monday evening, mask-wearing. The line did not require mask-wearing during the first two days of the voyage.
During his address to passengers, Lund said the results of the test that came back positive, a rapid test, were "preliminary" but the vessel was working under the assumption that it had one or more COVID patients on board.
He said the passenger who was tested had felt ill before the test.
Lund said SeaDream 1 would immediately return to Barbados, bringing an end to the current sailing. In a second update a few hours later, he added that the vessel was expected to arrive in Barbados around 10 p.m. Wednesday evening.
In his second announcement, Lund said the ship's doctor was working through the afternoon testing all the ship's crew and passengers for COVID-19. The ship is carrying three Abbott ID Now testing machines that each can process one COVID test every 15 minutes.
In a third shipwide announcement at around 7:23 p.m. on Wednesday, Lund the doctor had finished the testing of the crew, and all the tests had come back negative.
Lund said Barbadian health authorities would board the ship after it arrived in Barbados late Wednesday, and passengers and crew would likely be tested yet again by the local authorities. He said he wasn't sure if the additional testing would take place immediately upon arrival or be deferred to Thursday morning.
The initial announcement on Wednesday came just before lunchtime. As passengers were then confined to their cabins, they ate lunch in their rooms. Crew slipped menus under cabin doors that offered a range of options from a cheeseburger to a fillet of Arctic char. Meals were served within a couple hours by mask-wearing staff who did not enter the rooms.
"Please allow a bit of extra time for us to adjust for this new situation," Lund said during his first announcement. "We are confident in our routines and medical plans, but they are strict, and we apologize for this inconvenience."
In addition to the multiple announcements from the captain of the vessel over the ship's intercom system, passengers received two letters explaining the situation under their doors. Crew members also called passengers to ask if they were okay and needed anything.
In addition to Union Island, SeaDream 1 has visited St. Vincent and the Grenadine islands of Canouan and Tobago Cays during this voyage. But passengers on the vessel have not come in contact with locals on the islands. In order to maintain a COVID-free bubble on board, off-vessel activities have focused exclusively on landings at empty beaches for swimming and sunning, and catamaran trips from the ship for snorkeling.
Passengers have not visited any island towns.
The 53 passengers on board include 37 Americans. There also are passengers from the U.K., Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany.
Gene Sloan was traveling on SeaDream 1 as a guest of the cruise line. Featured image courtesy of SeaDream Yacht Club