Hurtigruten Faces Continuing Problems in Norway After COVID-19 Cruise

Hurtigruten continues to face problems in Norway from COVID-19 incident
Roald Amundsen seen on an earleir cruise (file photo)

Published Aug 21, 2020 6:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

Three weeks after it was forced to suspend cruise operations and apologize for failures to follow COVID-19 protocols, Norwegian shipping firm Hurtigruten continues to face a list of potential problems. The investigations are ongoing in Norway, while accusations have surfaced in the media that could result in legal actions against the company and some of its employees.

The problem began in late July when it was discovered that a passenger aboard the company’s cruise ship the Roald Amundsen had tested positive for COVID-19 after disembarking from a cruise the prior week. Health officials warned the company and according to comments recently in the media believed that Hurtigruten would warn passengers and crew aboard the ship as well as implement precautions. Instead, passengers were permitted to disembark two days later in the Norwegian city of Tromso. Hurtigruten made its first public statement that day saying that four crew members had been isolated after reporting not feeling well and tested positive for COVID-19 after the ship arrived in Tromso. 

Many of the disembarking passengers however had already reached the city’s airport and were beginning their trips home. Some were quarantined in Tromso while a contact tracing effort was launched across Norway. Doctors in Tromso later told reporters that they felt betrayed by Hurtigruten and two of the doctors began to suggest in media reports that the company delaying telling passengers the COVID-19 news.

Admitting the number of cases of the virus tired to the single cruise ship was rising and that the company had failed to follow its protocols, the company’s CEO made a public apology and promised an investigation. A board member and chief operating officer of the company was also asked to step down from his positions. 

Three weeks after the Roald Amundsen ended its cruise setting off the COVID-19 crisis in Norway a total of 71 people directly traced to the cruise or working on the ship have tested positive for the virus. In its last press release on August 6, Hurtigruten reported, "The latest test results show that 41 of the crew and 21 of the guests who have been on the two voyages with the ship, are infected." It is unclear how many of the nine additional cases are among passengers versus crew on the ship. According to Norwegian health officials, 11 crew members continue to be isolated on the cruise ship while the remaining 147 crew members were released from quarantine. State broadcaster NRK reported during the week that two of the eight new COVID-19 cases in Tromso this week were new cases related to the cruise ship.

Norwegian health officials and the police immediately launched investigations into the situation while accusations also appeared in the media of Hurtigruten’s efforts to delay the announcements. Hurtigruten in its statements has firmly denied the wrongful accusations.

NRK also reported that one of Norway’s medical officers in the Tromso area this week launched a further supervisory case into the situation. Among the issues being explored are the actions of the two doctors and nurses working aboard the cruise ship. The media are reporting questions if they had completed the required COVID-19 related training and followed the required procedures related to the virus.

Norwegian police, according to the newspaper Dagens Næringsliv are also now reviewing the company’s internal communications and emails including contact with the ship. The police could refer the case to prosecutors and some potential charges might include up to three years in prison if found guilty of failing to follow the state’s mandated procedures related to COVID-19.

For its part, Hurtigruten has retained lawyers while its internal investigation is proceeding. The company hired DNV GL to conduct an independent investigation into the entire situation. In the meantime, its expedition cruise ships have all been laid up but its Norwegian coastal service is continuing as it is considered a form of vital transportation for people, mail, and cargo. When news of the situation first broke, Norway also again closed its ports to all cruise ships with more than 100 passengers while it investigated this incident.