The president of the company that owns the stricken cruise ship Diamond Princess greeted disembarking passengers in Tokyo on Wednesday, acknowledging that customers had endured a “challenging” situation following an outbreak of coronavirus on the vessel.
“This is an unprecedented situation,” Jan Swartz, President of Princess Cruises, said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
“Nobody going on vacation thinks that they’re going to be notified in the last days that they’ve got an extension … and they’re not going to be allowed to leave their cabins,” she added.
The Diamond Princess ship became a floating quarantine zone earlier this month. Dozens of passengers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, effectively trapping more than 3,000 people, including 428 Americans, on board.
A total of 624 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been linked to the boat — the largest outbreak outside of China.
Swartz also specifically highlighted the actions of the ship’s crew. Japan’s government did not allow the roughly 1,000 crew members to be quarantined unless they took ill, instead asking them to work and serve the rest of the passengers throughout the two-week period.
“I think the guests and our crew who came together to help support each other, from 57 different countries and regions around the world really lifted each other’s hearts, as did social media play a critical role in that.”
“Our guests shared stories about living in the cabin for 14 days, clearly it was an uncomfortable, challenging situation,” Swartz added.
Even though the departing passengers have tested negative for the virus and endured the 14-day quarantine, there is mounting evidence from infectious disease experts that they could unknowingly be carrying the virus back into their communities.
On Monday, the United States evacuated more than 300 American passengers who had tested negative for the virus from the Diamond Princess, only to discover that more than a dozen of them were infected.
Canada, Australia and Hong Kong have arranged charter flights to take their citizens home after they leave the ship.
Princess Cruises, which operates a fleet of 20 ships, is the third largest cruise line in the world.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak onboard the Diamond Princess, the company has canceled dozens of sailings, and is moving one of its ships, the Sapphire Princess, from Shanghai to Australia.
Shares in Princess Cruises’ parent company Carnival Corporation are down nearly 16% for the year. Carnival said last week that the hit to global bookings and canceled voyages “will have a material impact” on its finances.
Carnival runs its flagship Carnival Cruise Line, the Princess Cruises brand and the Holland America Line, whose fleet includes the Westerdam, a ship that has been linked to one confirmed case of the coronavirus.