First U.S. Cruise Canceled by COVID-19 as CLIA Extends Cruising Pause

Wilderness Adventurer in Alaska became latest cruise ship to curtail operations due to COVID-19
Wilderness Adventurer - courtesy of UnCruise Adventures

Published Aug 5, 2020 1:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Days after celebrating its return to service as the first North American cruise line, small ship operator UnCruise Adventures announced its cruise ship is returning to port and future Alaska cruises are canceled after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19. The news comes as multiple cruise ships have been confronted with the same problem and the Cruise Lines International Association announced a further 45-day suspension for U.S. ocean cruises.

The American owned, U.S. flagged small cruise ship the Wilderness Adventurer departed Juneau, Alaska on August 1 on what the company had promoted as a 7-night Glacier Bay National Park Adventure with an enhanced wilderness itinerary. In announcing the program, UnCruise Adventures owner and CEO Dan Blanchard said, “As one of the first companies to restart service, this is a pivotal moment for the travel industry and Alaska. These initial departures represent a re-framing of what adventure travelers are increasingly looking for, small groups, inclusion, and human connection.” 

According to the company’s prepared statement, the vessel was anchored in a secluded harbor and the passengers were off the ship when one passenger was notified by the State of Alaska that they had tested positive for the virus. Under the company and the state’s rules, the passenger had taken a test before leaving home and was again tested arriving in Alaska. The passenger is reported as showing no symptoms, but the Alaska test was positive for the coronavirus.

Under the company’s pre-approved contingency plan with Alaska, the passengers were notified and asked to restrict themselves to their cabins where plated meals were served. The Wilderness Adventurer is returning to Juneau where it is expected to arrive today, August 5, and all guests will be quarantined at a local hotel. The crew will quarantine on the vessel in Juneau.

“This is very discouraging news and not what we had hoped for, but we’ll deal with it professionally,” said Blanchard in the company’s prepared statement. “The guests are taking the news well, and the crew has executed our contingency plan quickly.”

Yesterday, SeaDream Yacht Club also announced that it was curtailing a current cruise in Norway also due to an asymptomatic past passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 returning to Denmark. Hurtigruten is also working to end trips on two of its expedition cruises in Norway after a passenger who had been aboard a third one of the cruise line’s ships tested positive for the virus after disembarkation. In addition, one passenger aboard a cruise ship sailing in French Polynesia also tested positive prompting the Paul Gauguin cruise ship to go into lockdown.

In a separate announcement, the industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association said that its members would be extending their current suspension of U.S. cruise operations from September 15 until October 31. Citing its commitment to public health and safety, CLIA members said they will continue to monitor the situation with the understanding that they will revisit a possible further extension on or before September 30. At the same time, the statement said, “should conditions in the U.S. change and it becomes possible to consider short, modified sailings, we would consider an earlier restart.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's no sail order for cruises from the U.S. currently lasts until September 30.

These latest developments leave only cruise ships in Germany, France, and Taiwan sailing along with river cruises in Europe. The vast majority of the cruise industry has been idled for nearly five months and while the industry continues to hope that at least limited operations might resume in the fall of 2020, several cruise lines have canceled all of their planned 2020 sailings.