Update: SeaDream cancelled the rest of its 2020 sailings after seven guests and two crew tested positive for Covid-19. See story here
SeaDream Yacht Club has become the first cruise line to start sailing in the Caribbean since the industry was shut down in March by the coronavirus pandemic.
Its ship SeaDream I left Barbados last night on a week’s voyage round sunshine islands. The 112-passenger yacht – carrying only 53 guests – is exempt from orders by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention because it is sailing outside US waters and is below the 250-passenger threshold for the rules to apply.
However, photographs by one of the invited journalists, cruise writer Gene Sloan, sparked discussion – and some anger – on social media because the crew were not wearing face coverings.
Andreas Brynestad, the Executive Vice President of SeaDream – and the son of the line’s founder and owner, Atle Brynestad – told me: ‘Our health protocols are vetted by the Barbados government, our medical advisors are aligned with CDC rules (even though we are not in US waters) and with the Healthy Sail Plan, as well as [industry body] CLIA rules for cruise lines.
‘Our crew do wear masks when they are in a red zone. Embarkation areas are an example of a red zone. Crew are, of course, tested before they fly, quarantined upon arrival, tested before embarkation and continuously as per our internal 200-page Covid plan.’
Later, in a LinkedIn post referencing this story, Mr Brynestad commented: ‘On board you are inside a safe bubble (to the extent possible). Guests are PCR tested twice before boarding, including at the pier. We do wear face masks outside of the “bubble”, including at the pier and during the initial check-in/boarding process. Everything is done in cooperation with local authorities. We have face masks for everyone on board and we continuously monitor and adjust as needed.’
Then, on November 9, Mr Brynestad contacted me to say SeaDream had updated its policy and that guests and crew would be required to wear masks on board if they were unable to socially distance.
On November 11, the captain announced that a passenger had tested positive for Covid-19. Guests were told to remain in their cabins and the ship returned to Barbados, where a total of seven cases – five from the same family and another couple – were confirmed.
On November 17, SeaDream confirmed that two crew had also tested positive and it was cancelling its sailings for the rest of the year.
SeaDream I had been sailing safely with sister ship SeaDream II in Norway since June. There were headlines when one guest tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving back in Denmark but a follow-up test was negative and all the other passengers and crew were cleared as well.
Before arriving in Barbados, the yacht sailed a transatlantic voyage from Portsmouth, UK, carrying guests including vloggers Ben and David Hewitt-McDonald, who outlined some of the coronavirus protocols in a YouTube film.
Gene Sloan has also posted about his boarding experience here and subsequently about the Covid scare.
Andreas Brynestad told me when updating the mask protocol: ‘There is no guarantee that we will never get Covid. There is no such thing as 100 per cent certainty – other than the fact that some people will always be critical. This is usually due to lack of knowledge or an understanding of how we operate.
‘These are days when many people are scared – for good reasons and sometimes for the wrong reasons. There are those that do not want to even consider travelling and there are those that need to travel. Some people have been quarantined for months, some are exhausted and need a break.
‘Not everyone can or should travel with us, but some do. This is a decision that is up to each individual traveller, and the rules and regulations where they live and where they have to fly through.’