Norway’s Hurtigruten halts cruises after a COVID-19 outbreak on an Arctic voyage

Norwegian police say they are investigating whether any laws had been broken.

By Terje Solsvik, Reuters, Gwladys Fouche, Reuters - August 3, 2020
The Hurtigruten cruise liner MS Roald Amundsen is moored due a COVID-19 outbreak on board, in Breivika, Tromso, Norway August 3, 2020. (Terje Pedersen / NTB Scanpix via Reuters)

OSLO — Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten is halting all its so-called expedition cruises until further notice following an outbreak of COVID-19 on one of its vessels last week, the company said on Monday.

At least 41 passengers and crew from the MS Roald Amundsen have so far tested positive for the coronavirus, while hundreds more have been told to self-isolate for 10 days, public health officials said.

“A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures,” Chief Executive Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement.

“Our own failure, as well as the recent rise in infections internationally, has led us to halt all expedition cruises in Norwegian and international waters,” he said.

Norwegian police said they would investigate whether any laws had been broken.

“We have found grounds to open a case,” Troms Police Lawyer Thomas Rye-Holmboe told Reuters.

Four of the MS Roald Amundsen’s crew members were hospitalized on Friday when the ship arrived at the port of Tromsø, and later diagnosed with COVID-19. Tests showed another 32 of the 158 staff were also infected.

Among the infected crew, 32 were from the Philippines while the rest were of Norwegian, French and German nationality. The foreign crew had been tested for the coronavirus before leaving their home countries but did not quarantine before starting work on the ship, the company said.

Passengers were allowed to disembark before anyone had been diagnosed, triggering a complex operation to locate them.

So far, five of the combined 387 passengers travelling on the ship on two separate cruises since July 17 have been found to carry the virus, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) and the Tromsø municipality said.

Hurtigruten touted reduced passenger capacity, social distancing and strict rules on hygiene as it became the first operator to return an oceangoing cruise ship to service in mid-June.

The MS Roald Amundsen had been scheduled to sail around the British Isles in September. Trips with two other vessels have also been suspended, the company said, adding its business shipping goods between Norwegian ports would continue.