First Caribbean cruise since March runs into a storm over face masks

Dave Monk
·3 min read
SeaDream I ship
SeaDream I ship

The first Caribbean cruise since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the multibillion-pound industry has set sail – and immediately hit a storm of controversy over face masks.

SeaDream I, which has been operating safely since June in Norway, departed from Barbados on Saturday carrying 53 passengers accompanied by crew who had manned the ship on a 21-day crossing from Oslo.

While the big American fleets lie dormant, the yacht – as SeaDream prefers to call it – was able to sail because it wasn’t in US waters and carrying fewer than 250 guests. This meant it fell outside the remit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has laid down strict rules on the return of cruising.

Related video: Royal Caribbean will look for volunteers for ‘trial sailings’

All seemed well, until one passenger – US cruise writer Gene Sloan – posted a picture of four crew waiting to welcome him on board. Not a single one was wearing a mask.

Dozens of commenters, including fellow journalists, pitched in. Doug Parker, known by his Twitter handle of CruiseRadio, called it “irresponsible” and added: “The CDC is watching every move of the cruise industry, US sailing or not.”

Stuart Chiron said: “Gotta be kidding! Everyone on cruise ships should be wearing masks.”

Jim Walker, a Miami-based maritime lawyer, leapt on the story, writing on Twitter: “Hey CDC, take a look at this – no masks by crew members or social distancing on SeaDream cruise. How long before a Covid-19 outbreak?”

Initially, SeaDream stuck to its guns, saying its health protocols were vetted by the Barbados government and aligned with CDC rules.

Andreas Brynestad, the executive vice president, said crew wore masks in “red zones” such as the embarkation area, adding: “They are, of course, tested before they fly, quarantined upon arrival, tested before embarkation and continuously as per our internal 200-page Covid plan.”

He later added: “On board you are inside a safe bubble (to the extent possible). Guests are PCR-tested twice before boarding, including at the pier. We have face masks for everyone on board and we continuously monitor and adjust as needed.”

SeaDream ships
SeaDream ships

However, a day later and with the criticism showing no signs of abating, Mr Brynestad announced a change of policy and said passengers and crew would have to wear masks when they were unable to maintain a six-foot distance from each other.

A letter to every cabin said: “In these extraordinary times [...] regulations and protocols tend to change daily and we want to be completely compliant with everything that we possibly can in order to keep everyone safe and everyone sailing.”

In a follow-up tweet, Gene Sloan said that with the ship carrying fewer than half its normal 112 passengers there was “plenty of room to spread out”. He added: “The lounge is almost empty all day. Usually plenty of room around the pool too.”

Casual observers might see this as a storm in a teacup but the strength of reaction shows how nervous the US cruise industry and its supporters are over upsetting the CDC, which has ended its no-sail ban but set out a long list of measures for lines to fulfil before they can again carry paying passengers, including standards on “hand hygiene, face coverings and social distancing [...] as may be required by CDC technical instructions or orders.”

Certainly the fuss has bemused SeaDream’s Andreas Brynestad. He told Telegraph Travel: “There is no guarantee that we will never get Covid. There is no such thing as 100 per cent certainty – other than the fact that some people will always be critical. This is usually due to lack of knowledge or an understanding of how we operate.

“These are days when many people are scared – for good reasons and sometimes for the wrong reasons.”