Two plaintiffs allege that although Holland America and parent company Carnival Corporation assured those set to travel on the MS Zaandam that passengers would be subject to pre-boarding health screenings, guests from around the world were instead negligently exposed to COVID-19 and forced to remain at sea for weeks.
Filed in Seattle federal court, the 35-page complaint claims Holland and Carnival did not implement any additional preventive measures prior to the MS Zaandam’s departure from Buenos Aires, Argentina on March 8 despite possessing knowledge of COVID-19 outbreaks aboard the Diamond Princess, Ruby Princess and Grand Princess cruises throughout February.
On March 6, the night before the MS Zaandam was set to depart, the plaintiffs received an email from Holland touting its and Carnival’s “deep partnerships with global health experts” and “enhanced screening, prevention and control procedures” that were purportedly being implemented on ships, the lawsuit says. The email also gave passengers the option to cancel their trip—though offered no guidance with regard to funding a return to the United States—in exchange for a future cruise credit, per the case. In all, Holland assured the plaintiffs and other passengers it was taking health precautions seriously in light of the global coronavirus crisis, adding in a subsequent email that all guests boarding would be subject to health reporting and enhanced screenings at check-in, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs allege, however, that their experiences boarding the MS Zaandam did not comport with the assurances they received from the defendants, despite that some of the ship’s passengers traveled to Buenos Aires from regions experiencing high coronavirus infection rates. During boarding, the plaintiffs were met with no additional preventative measures, the lawsuit says, claiming the defendants did not take passengers’ temperatures and implemented neither social distancing rules nor other reasonable precautions.
“Upon information and belief, Defendants did not take any measures different from their typical preparations for a voyage, and made no COVID-19-specific efforts to prevent or contain contagion at the time of initial embarkation,” the plaintiffs say.
According to the suit, the voyage’s two legs—set to begin in Buenos Aires on March 8 and end in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on April 7—were upended on March 11 when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. On March 13, while the MS Zaandam was still at sea, Holland announced it was suspending cruise operations for 30 days due to the pandemic, the case says.
The following day, the MS Zaandam was denied port entry by Argentina, which forced the ship to make its way back to Punta Arenas, Chile with the hope of unloading passengers, the lawsuit continues. On March 15, MS Zaandam passengers learned Holland had canceled the voyage’s remaining itinerary, a decision the complaint says came in response to an announcement that South American ports would not accept cruise ship traffic. According to the plaintiffs, Chile denied port entry to the MS Zaandam on the same day, leaving passengers in the dark about where the ship would dock or when they would be able to disembark.
In subsequent days, the MS Zaandam remained at sea with no set destination, the lawsuit says. During this time, Holland and Carnival became aware that crew and passengers were exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, per the complaint, yet nevertheless continued to encourage passengers to gather in large crowds, attend events and share meals. The lawsuit claims Holland and Carnival even rolled out additional group activities as a means of entertaining guests while stuck at sea.
As the lawsuit tells it, it was not until roughly one week after the MS Zaandam was denied entry into South American ports that Holland and Carnival took any steps to address the potential COVID-19 outbreak on board. Around March 22, the suit says, guests were asked to isolate themselves in their staterooms, having meals and laundry service handled by crew members.
“Prior to that date, Defendants provided passengers on the ship, including Plaintiffs, with no fore-warning that passengers and crew members were experiencing flu-like symptoms, although Defendants were aware of the growing population of ill passengers for many days,” according to the case.
By March 24, approximately 30 passengers and 47 crew members had reported to the ship’s infirmary due to respiratory and flu-like symptoms, the suit says, noting 20 more passengers reporting feeling ill and experiencing COVID-19 symptoms within the next few days.
The complaint goes on to say Holland and Carnival sent the MS Rotterdam to meet the MS Zaandam off the coast of Panama to deliver COVID-19 tests, ventilators and other supplies. According to the case, however, the MS Rotterdam was also instructed by the defendants to take on passengers from the MS Zaandam, many of whom reportedly had no idea how grave the situation was on board. From the complaint:
“On March 26, 2020, audio of the captain of the MS ROTTERDAM leaked in which he announced to crew members aboard the MS ROTTERDAM that four ‘older’ passengers aboard the MS ZAANDAM had died onboard, on or around the 26th. The next day, March 27, 2020, the crew of the MS ZAANDAM announced the deaths on the public address system. HOLLAND has since confirmed that two of these deaths were related to COVID-19. It has not provided details about the other two.”
One plaintiff claims he came down with COVID-19 shortly thereafter, which coincided with the MS Zaandam being denied transit through the Panama Canal before eventually being allowed to pass and arriving at Port Everglades around April 1.
The lawsuit says approximately 107 passengers on board either the MS Zaandam or the MS Rotterdam, as well as 143 MS Zaandam crew members, experienced COVID-19 related symptoms. Per the complaint, the plaintiffs remained on the MS Zaandam for days after docking, and battled COVID-19 symptoms for weeks thereafter.
The plaintiffs say they and other MS Zaandam passengers were exposed to and suffered from COVID-19 while aboard the ship due to the defendants’ “negligence and gross negligence,” and were traumatized as a result of their confinement aboard the ship for weeks.
According to the lawsuit, Carnival-run cruises have been identified as responsible for more than 1,500 positive COVID-19 infections and linked to nearly 40 deaths.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.