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House panel to probe COVID-19 outbreaks on Carnival cruise ships

House panel to probe COVID-19 outbreaks on Carnival cruise ships
A House panel said in a letter to Carnival Friday it would open probe into its COVID-19 response. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

May 2 (UPI) -- A House panel said that it plans to investigate Carnival Cruise Line's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At least nine Carnival cruise ships had COVID-19 outbreaks, resulting in more than 1,500 cases and at least 39 deaths since early February, Bloomberg reported.

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The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure notified Carnival of the probe into its response to the outbreaks and plans for improvements in a letter sent Friday. The panel requested Carnival documents and correspondence on COVID-19 and its outbreak prevention and response plans. Lawmakers requested the company begin delivering these records by May 15.

The same committee has also led the probe into design and safety problems in the two Boeing's 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

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Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio authored the letter sent to Carnival Corporation President and CEO Arnold Donald. It was also signed by Sean Patrick Maloney, maritime transportation subcommittee chairman.

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"While cruises are often viewed as care-free escape from reality where passengers can dine, dance, relax, and mingle, we would hope that the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic will place a renewed emphasis on public health and passenger safety, but frankly that has not been seen up to this point," the letter read.

"In fact, it seems as though Carnival Corporation and its portfolio of nine cruise lines, which represent 109 cruise ships, is still trying to sell this cruise line fantasy and ignoring the public health threat posed by coronavirus to potential future passengers and crew."

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The letter pointed out that front pages of websites for its nine affiliated cruise lines, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, P&O Cruises (Australia), Costa Cruises, AIDA Cruises, P&O Cruises (Britain) and Cunard, have not mentioned the coronavirus or future precautions.

In particular, Princess also faces a criminal probe in Australia into whether it misled authorities about an outbreak in Sydney and its Costa Cruises subsidiary is also facing a lawsuit on its COVID-19 response.

A book published three years ago titled Cruise Ship Tourism said "the cruise industry needs to undertake a proactive approach in crisis management, paying more attention to emerging health issues as well as preparing itself with comprehensive and exhaustive crisis management plans," the letter noted.

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DeFazio and Maloney criticized the company for not heeding the book's warnings.

The letter also cited allegations in a Bloomberg Businessweek report on its COVID-19 response as "quite disturbing."

The report's allegations suggested "that officials at Carnival were aware of the threats to some of its ships and did not take appropriate actions, which may have led to greater infections and the spread of the disease," the letter said.

Carnival told Bloomberg it received the letter and will cooperate fully.

"Our goal is the same as the committee's goal," the company said, "to protect the health, safety and well-being of our guests and crew, along with compliance and environmental protection."

On April 1, Donald had said the company's response was reasonable given the circumstances.

"This is a generational global event ... it's unprecedented," he told Bloomberg.

Carnival has halted all voyages amid the pandemic. Other cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have also halted voyages after COVID-19 outbreaks on a smaller scale.

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