Three weeks after it was forced to suspend cruise operations and apologize for failures to follows its COVID-19 protocols, Norwegian shipping firm Hurtigruten faces a growing list of potential problems. Initial investigations in Norway have uncovered additional issues leading to the growing potential for 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 believe 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 before Hurtigruten issued a statement, which at the time said only four crew members had been isolated after reporting not feeling well.
Many of the disembarking passengers had reached the city’s airport and were beginning the trips home. Some were quarantined in Tromso while a contact tracing effort was launched across Norway. Health officials in Norway felt that they had been betrayed by Hurtigruten and later began to accuse the company of purposely delaying and attempting to hide the COVID-19 news. Admitting the number of cases of the virus tired to the single cruise ship was rising, the company’s CEO was forced to make public apologies 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. According to Norwegian health officials, 11 crew members remain isolated on the cruise ship while the remaining 147 crew members were released from quarantine. State broadcaster NRK is now reporting that two of the eight new COVID-19 cases in Tromso this week are community spread from the cruise ship.
Norwegian health officials and the police immediately launched investigations into the situation as the reports surfaced in the media of Hurtigruten’s efforts to delay the announcements.
NRK is also reported that one of Norway’s medical officers in the Tromso area has launched a further investigation into the situation. Among the issues being explored are the qualifications of the two doctors and nurses working aboard the cruise ship. In addition to a Norwegian doctor who primarily attended to passengers, the ship had a Filipino doctor and two nurses also from the Philippines who primarily cared for the Filipino crew members. The authorities are investigating if they had authorization to practice medicine in Norway and had completed the required COVID-19 related training. A Hurtigruten spokesperson told NRK that they were operating under international maritime law.
Norwegian police, according to the newspaper Dagens Næringsliv are 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 include up to three years in prison if found guilty of hiding information.
For its part, Hurtigruten has retained lawyers and stopped issuing public statements. 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.
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