Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Restart Wrecked by Multiple COVID Cases

Royal Caribbean has postponed a cruise aboard the Odyssey of the Seas after eight crew members tested positive for COVID-19.

A trial voyage, planned for late June, will also be rescheduled, according to a Facebook post from the company's president and CEO, Michael Bayley.

Royal Caribbean's return to U.S. waters has been highly anticipated after the pandemic forced the company to suspend operations for more than a year.

The maiden cruise of Odyssey of the Seas, the line's newest ship, was scheduled to begin on July 3 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It has been delayed to July 31, Bayley said. A new date for the trial cruise has not been announced.

The two voyages were postponed "out of an abundance of caution" after the crew members tested positive for COVID-19 "during routine testing."

Bayley said: "All 1,400 crew onboard Odyssey of the Seas were vaccinated on June 4th and will be considered fully vaccinated on June 18. The positive cases were identified after the vaccination was given and before they were fully effective."

Six of the eight were reported to be asymptomatic, while two were reported to have mild symptoms. All eight were quarantined and "are being closely monitored" by the company's medical team, according to Bayley.

"To protect the remaining crew and prevent any further cases, we will have all crew quarantined for 14 days and continue with our routine testing. Guests and travel partners will be notified and given several options to consider," he added.

"While disappointing, this is the right decision for the health and well-being of our crew and guests."

A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean told the Associated Press that the trial cruise planned for late June had not yet been approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has been issuing updated guidance in recent months as part of its phased Framework for Conditional Sailing Order to allow the resumption of cruise operations in the U.S.

The cruise industry came to a halt last year after the CDC issued a "no sail order" for ships on March 14, 2020, "due to the risk cruise ship travel introducing, transmitting, or spreading COVID-19."

The CDC's latest guidance includes a requirement for companies to conduct trial cruises.

The AP has reported that Celebrity Edge—a vessel from Celebrity Cruises, a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Group—is expected to be the first vessel to sail from the U.S. with ticketed passengers since the pandemic began, when it departs on June 26.

A spokesperson for Celebrity Cruises told the AP that the ship could sail without a trial voyage because it was in line with CDC guidelines.

The latest CDC guidance, updated on June 4, states: "In lieu of conducting a simulated voyage, cruise ship operator responsible officials, at their discretion, may sign and submit to CDC an attestation […] that 95 percent of crew (excluding any newly embarking crew in quarantine) are fully vaccinated and submit to CDC a clear and specific vaccination plan and timeline to limit cruise ship sailings to 95 percent of passengers who have been verified by the cruise ship operator as fully vaccinated prior to sailing."

The spokesperson said: "We are exceeding these guidelines."

Last week, two guests sharing a cabin aboard Celebrity Millennium, a Celebrity vessel in the Caribbean, tested positive for COVID-19 during "the required end-of-cruise testing," according to a company statement issued on June 10.

The company added: "We are conducting contact tracing, expediting testing for all close contacts and closely monitoring the situation.

"All guests on Celebrity Millennium were required to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before sailing from St. Maarten this past Saturday.

"This situation demonstrates that our rigorous health and safety protocols work to protect our crew, guests and the communities we visit."

Newsweek has contacted Royal Caribbean, the Cruise Lines International Association and the CDC for comment.

Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas ship.
Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas, pictured at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on June 10. Its maiden voyage has been delayed. Joe Raedle/Getty Images